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.



Keep Your Powder Dry: 10 Things Babies Teach You About Poker

Don’t spill a chip.

15 years ago I witnessed the birth of my son.

5 weeks ago I did the same (or similar), only this time I had a daughter.

She is so beautiful and angelic. But she has also turned me into a nervous wreck with a facial tick and a willingness to play chicken with trains.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. My poker game has improved. Here are 10 things my newborn baby has taught (or reminded) me about poker.

1. Babies Teach You How to Fold

We’ve all been there. The first time we ever played poker we wanted to see every hand.

Be still.

“But I might flop something,” is the generic response to a 100% VPIP stat.

Over time we learn that the art of poker is learning how to fold. Although it’s annoying to pass up the chance of playing 72o in the big blind, it’s an essential fundamental.

Newborn babies are boring as shit. They don’t do anything except get on your nerves.

They even throw out a few bluffs by pretending to smile when they have trapped wind.

You have to learn the art of stillness when you have a child.

You need to be able to sit with them in your arms and just do nothing – very much like folding when playing poker.

2. Babies Teach You How to Stay Alive in Tournaments

The sole focus when you begin a tournament is to stay alive. Phil Hellmuth is one of the masters of this and it’s why he’s won 14 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets.

Your sole focus as a parent of a newborn is also to make sure they stay alive.

You have to sterilize their bottles so they don’t catch Ebola, feed them very two hours so they don’t starve and try to breastfeed them in bed without rolling over and crushing them with a tit.

Phil Hellmuth
Be like Phil and stay alive.

By learning to keep babies alive you also learn how to stay alive in poker tournaments — especially ensuring you don’t get crushed by a tit.

3. Babies Teach You About the Long Term 

We all know that the greatest poker players on the planet earn that title by successfully making money over the long term.

Any idiot can win money (or even a major world title) in the short term. But it’s the painstaking approach a pro gives to the long term that’s important in poker.

The same happens with a newborn baby. There are times, in the short term, where it might be +EV to throw them out of a window. But it’s not an effective long-term strategy.

The key to getting through the newborn phase is knowing that one day they will talk and listen so you can tell them to sit down and play on their PlayStation while you finish your online poker tournament.

4. Babies Teach You How Precious Chips Are

Every poker player knows that the poker chip is the most valuable of things. They are fuel, and without them you cannot function.

Chip Stack on WSOP Main Event 2015 Day 1A
The most valuable of things.

But when my newborn came along I found something even more precious. Guarding it has helped me understand the importance of keeping hold of every single chip.

I am, of course, talking about breast milk. Forget gold, diamonds and bitcoins – the most important ‘thing’ in the world when you have a newborn is breast milk.

“Why won’t you give your daughter formula milk?” the highly educated doctor asked me after her birth.

“Because she is not a cow.”

There is also the added complication of becoming terrified of each feed because of the amount of gas that formula milk creates.

So, breast milk becomes more important in life than Hellmuth’s white magic. Don’t spill a drop.

5. Babies Teach You The Art of Control

In poker you need to learn the art of ‘control,’ and having a newborn helps. 

You cannot control your baby’s cries, their feeding times or any of their actions. So it makes no sense to develop anxiety over a set of circumstances that are beyond your control.

When they cry, you need to learn to find empathy instead of frustration and understand that any reaction on your part is -EV.

Female Poker Player
Find empathy, not frustration.

You can’t control the deck, the dealer or the other players. Reacting in an anxious, tilt-stricken way is just -EV.

6. Babies Teach You to How to Hide Your Tells

One of the best body postures in poker belongs to Martin Jacobson. I love the way that he creates this intense, almost granite-like presence at the poker table.

I have stolen it when dealing with my newborn. I can walk around the room with her for hours.

She will be fast asleep. But as soon as one hair touches that crib she is as alert as Will Kassouf on crack.

She is always bluffing me and I always fall for it. The only way I can put her down is to fight fire with fire. I have to be like granite.

martin jacobson 5
Be like granite.

I cannot look her in the eyes or she picks up on my tells. I have to lower her gently and try to bluff her into thinking that I am still by her side.

7. Babies Teach You to Make Moves

You need a few moves up your sleeve if you’re going to become an exceptional poker player. The same applies to a parent of a newborn.

There is only one goal and that’s to get them to sleep as fast and as often as possible. If they could sleep until the walking-talking phase, like Sleeping Beauty, I would take that. 

So you develop moves. You sing the Dirty Dancing theme in a deep voice ONLY when you need them to sleep.

You sing the Rocky tune when changing their nappy to stop them from kicking that shit everywhere.

You rock them, bounce them and hum to them all in the name of 2-3 hours of absolute bliss.

8. Babies Teach You to Put in Long Hours at the Tables

If you’re a cash-game player you know that very often your times at the table are dictated by the presence of the fish. Sometimes a whale comes along and you have to put in a 24-hour shift. And that’s tough.

Fortunately, having a newborn prepares you for the long shifts. Not only are you sleepless for the 42 hours of labor that precede the birth but you don’t get to sleep more than 2-3 hours per day for the next three years.

Perfect prep for poker.

It’s perfect practice. And if you’re a mother it’s even better because chances are you won’t be able to sit or lie down for six weeks after squeezing a grapefruit out of a hole usually used for the access of much smaller fruits.

9. Babies Teach You The Art of Patience

Impatient people don’t make it far in poker. You need to learn to keep your powder dry.

You cannot play hands that are ineffective just because you are bored. You cannot get fed up of folding.

You cannot allow your outspoken opponent to goad you into playing out of position with marginal holdings.

If you don’t have patience with your newborn then you will go batshit crazy and your child will grow up with some serious Daddy or Mummy issues.

Newborns can smell fear a mile away. If you are impatient they pick up on that shit and create havoc in your life.

Learn to meditate while walking up and down the stairs for hours on end to get them to sleep; it will do your poker game a world of good. 

10. Babies Teach You The Importance of Mentors

If you want to get to the top of the poker world, find someone who has the t-shirt and ask them to show you the ropes.

Tom Marchese Day6 Main Event2
Learn from the best.

It’s a sure fire way to get to the top but you have to pick the right person.

Hiring a Doula for your birth is worth its weight in gold. If you pick the right person then life becomes so much easier.

There is a wealth of experience when it comes to parenting newborns. Don’t try and do it all yourself.

Learn from those who have successfully reared newborns in the past.



5 Ways to Cure Your Social Anxiety at the Poker Table

Have you seen Mr Robot, yet? No?

Come on; Game of Thrones Season 7 won’t be on until sometime in the spring so I know you have a hole to fill.

Mr Robot is a show about a guy named Elliot. He is a brilliant mind, a genius hacker, but he doesn’t know how to relate to people.

The lad can bring down the world’s economic system but he can’t get over his social anxiety. In a way he reminds me of a lot of poker players that have crossed my path.

When I grew up there were two types of kids:

Type #1: You were into sports, liked girls and were thick as shit.

Type #2: You were into books, were scared of girls and were smart.

The Type #1 people would eventually end up smoking, drinking and gambling. The Type #2 people would end up working for SpaceX.

A Godsend for Type #2

Poker was a Godsend for Type #2 people and it was often online poker that was the gateway drug.

BOM Field IMG 0321
There will be people. And that’s OK.

They could use their intellect to win obscene amounts of money; and they got brave enough to type things into the chat box like:

“I hope you get cancer and have to have your balls removed.”

And then one day, by accident, they won a satellite into a live event.

Oh shit.

There will be people there – yellow people, brown people, people in wheelchairs, scary bald-headed people with swastika tattoos on their skull, lesbians, gays, transgenders, cowboys, Indians, fat ones, bulimic ones, alcoholics, drug addicts, the ones with yellow stains on their fingers that drive you crazy because you don’t know if it’s turmeric or nicotine, old people who smell of piss, and those scary looking young kids with baseball caps, sunglasses and hoodies.

What will I do with my social anxiety! Chill, Winston. I have a few ideas for you. 

1. What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

A lesson from the Stoics. Nobody likes to lose, and if you think about it you will lose far more hands than you are ever going to win. That sucks.

Mike Matusow 2
Not everybody’s a Pessimistic Pete.

What makes a great poker player is they always come to the table believing they will lose. But they aren’t all Pessimistic Petes.

They believe in their ability to win but they also understand the luck factor in poker. By thinking you will lose in the short term but will win in the long run all great poker players find calm in the storm of a major loss.

This can also help with social anxiety. Think about your fears. What scares you? Now multiply those feelings tenfold.

Imagine one of your competitors is Negan from The Walking Dead and he’s taking your head off with Lucille after getting fed up of being constantly three-bet. Imagine someone else pulling out a gun and putting a cap in your ass.

Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen? None of those things will happen. Nobody will die. You will live.

You aren’t afraid of what people will do to you. You are scared of the feelings that rise from the pit of your stomach such as embarrassment or shame. You own those feelings. You can change them.

2. Change Your Beliefs; Change Your Feelings

Imagine your wife of 30 years tells you that she wants a divorce and has been banging your best mate for donkey’s years. I believe you would feel anger, self-pity and shame.

Phil Hellmuth 2015Razz
This is poker, baby.

Now imagine that your wife of 30 years tells you that she wants a divorce and has been banging your best mate for donkey’s years, and then later you find out she was a serial killer.

How would you feel?

I imagine you would feel relieved and probably happy you never woke up like John Wayne Bobbit. It’s not the getting dumped part that bothers you; it’s the feelings that you create in reaction to being dropped.

Think about that. Nothing that anyone at a poker table does can affect you. Only you can create damage by creating negative emotions in reaction to their actions.

This is poker, baby. People are going to try and get under your skin. Change your beliefs and it will change your feelings. 

3. Create an Exposure Hierarchy

What is going to send the social butterfly into the chrysalis?

888player gold headphones3
Instant gratification is for suckers.

Make a list of all the scenarios that arise in your mind and note them down on paper. This is now your goals list.

Rate them from the most intimidating to the least.

Now, remember, poker is a game won over the long term. The short term, instant gratification thing is for losers. So we have all year. Hell, we have your entire life to get this right.

Let’s turn this into a game within a game. Take the least worrisome thing on your list and set a goal to challenge yourself in that area during your first session.

Keep working at it until it becomes comfortable. Then move your way up the list until you are asking the dealer out for a date.

Not always about you.

4. Don’t Focus on You

“I am scared.”

“I don’t want to feel shame.”

“I don’t want to look stupid.”

“What will I wear?”

“How shall I riffle my chips?”

Do you see the theme? All of these statement/questions focus on YOU.

If you focus on yourself you start to become self-conscious. And guess what? It’s likely they are doing the same, and this makes for awkward conversations that stimulate anxiety.

Focus on them. Listen to them. If you don’t want to speak, then nod. If you don’t know what to say, then reflect back the last few sentences they said and it will act as a trigger for them to keep talking.

Ask questions. By behaving in this way to increase their self-esteem and in return the conversation becomes all flowy like newly cleaned curtains on a washing line. The same washing line you wanted to hang yourself from moments earlier.

5. EFT

If you try points 1-4 and are still a quivering mess, run to the washroom and practice some Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

This form of psychological acupressure, using fingers instead of needles, helps release blockages within your energy systems such as anxiety, fear, and worry. Here, check it out:

I know it looks a little far out but let’s face it — before you started reading this you were worried about talking to another human being.

Just don’t forget to do this in the washroom. If you start doing it at the table you might give the other players social anxiety. 



All the Monsters are Dead: A Poker Beginner's Guide to Scare Cards

Tony raises in the cutoff and you look down to see pocket fours on the button.

You call. The blinds fold. You are heads-up to the flop.

Tony is a solid player. If he has it he will raise; if he doesn’t he will fold.

Flop: 7♥ 3♥ Q♣

He checks and you decide to take a stab; he calls.

Turn: K♥

He checks and you bet. A grimace appears on his face as if he has just sipped a sugarless cup of coffee. He calls.

River: A♦ 

He checks and you make a pot-sized bet. He folds K♣ Q♦ face-up. Dragging in the pot, you tell Tony that he made the right fold.

Tony taps the felt, “I knew you had the flush. You always have the flush.”

We always have the flush? Do we?

Welcome to the world of Scare Cards.

What is a Scare Card?

A Scare Card is a card that changes the texture of the board in such a way that it makes your bones rattle like hangers in a cheap man’s closet.

the turn
A Scare Card changes board texture.

In our example above the scare card was the K♥ on the turn. Although it made Tony a two-pair hand it also completed a possible flush.

The betting action, coupled with Tony’s fear and his perception of his opponent’s holding, made the card scary for Tony. It lead to the final fold on the river.

It’s not easy to write a definition for Scare Cards because the definition means different things to players of different skills. In this piece we’ll focus on their meaning for absolute beginners.

We also bring in World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner Gavin Smith, PokerListings Spirit of Poker award winner Luca Moschitta and former PKR sponsored pro Dan O’Callaghan for some advice. 

Beginners are Pessimists

“I think the most important thing to point out,” says Gavin Smith, “is scare cards are equally scary for you and your opponent.” 

Dan O’Callaghan explains why:

“The key thing to take away from the Scare Cards philosophy is how everyone is concerned with how they can lose.”

Gavin Smith
Scare cards two-way street.

There are two ways to view a Scare Card:

1. You can believe the card scared your opponent and then use that to your advantage by going on the attack.

2. You can think the card helped your opponent and take a defensive approach.

When starting out poker players often fall into the latter category. In the beginning their line of inquiry is one dimensional. They become more pessimistic about their chances.

Don’t worry; it’s a biological reaction designed to prevent you from being eaten by some prehistoric monster. Over time, though, you learn that all the monsters are dead.

But some people are always afraid of the monsters. Take Tony for example. Tony has been playing poker for 20+ years and yet when a scare card hits he still sees shark smiles and the horns of the devil.

Zig when everyone else is zagging. Don’t think negatively; think positively. Respect the fact that the card may have helped your opponent, but focus on how it helps you progress positively.

Luca Moschitta IMG 0812
Remember a few things before bluffing.

One of Most Profitable Moves in Poker

When you talk to someone who knows nothing about poker the general reaction goes something like this:

“It’s all about bluffing, right?”

No. It’s more about folding. But bluffing is an integral part of the game. Scare Cards are the springboard you’ll use to complete your reverse triple somersault with a smile.

“Incorporating bluffs into your game when the board contains Scare Cards,” says Luca Moschitta, “is one of the most profitable moves in poker. But you do have to remember a few things.”

We’ll get to those few things a little later.

There are two ways of thinking about the concept of bluffing on boards containing Scare Cards. The least obvious of the two is how your opponent can use the Scare Card to bluff you.

“If the arrival of Scare Cards fits the way you have played your hand,” Smith says, “then outstanding, because you are likely to be raised by worse.

“But, if it is a card that doesn’t fit your betting pattern a bet becomes suicide because it’s now very easy to bluff-raise you. So in these spots check-calling is a much better play.”

Let’s pick on Tony again. Using Smith’s philosophy, if Tony did attempt to run a bluff after a Scare Card hits the board, a bluff-raise would have a high probability of success because we know Tony always believes we have it.

The point that Smith is making is to ensure that your story makes sense and that the story of your opponent makes sense. To do that we have to consider perception.

Perception is key.


We took a slight detour so Smith could explain the complicated way that bluffing enters the arena when talking about Scare Cards. Now let’s get back to Moschitta’s ‘we have to remember a few things.’

One of those things is perception.

“Always think about your opponent’s perception of you,” Moschitta says. “For example, if they see you betting the turn and river often they will adjust their game and start calling you more frequently.

“In this case, betting scare cards too often might be very expensive.”

Back to Tony (who it seems isn’t cottoning on to our moves.) Using statements like ‘you always have it’ confirms this. But you will face better opponents who will work you out — especially if they start calling you down on river bets and seeing your hands hit the muck.

Another point to remember is that sometimes a Tony simply runs out of patience. He still thinks ‘you have it’ but is so tired of being beaten up that he makes the call out of desperation.

In both instances understanding your opponent’s perception of you is crucial. But how does this work exactly?


Perception rules the roost. Think about pain and suffering. Physical pain aside, 100% of the suffering comes from the way that you perceive the world.

With players like Tony, hand ranges are irrelevant.

Your thoughts become your emotions. Often, if you want to change your outcomes, change your perception. This is a key concept in poker and especially so when applied to the idea of Scare Cards. Back to Moschitta:

“Bet on scary cards more often when you are able to put your opponent on a certain range of hands.”

Moschitta is pointing out the difference between playing against a weaker, one-dimensional opponent and playing someone who is advanced.

With players like Tony, hand ranges are irrelevant. You bully them into submission and use their fear against them. But with smarter players you need to create a compelling story.

To do this you need to put your opponent on a certain range of hands and make sure that your betting patterns fit into the perceived range of hands your opponent has applied to you.

Perception isn’t limited to hand ranges. Body language and image is also essential. A bluff with confident body language is stronger than the reverse.

Imagine if Tony was to turn his game around and start incorporating a few bluffs on Scare Cards into his arsenal. The perception that he is a one-dimensional rock will help force folds from his supposedly wiser opponents.

“Scare cards are strange,” says O’Callaghan. “Sometimes they favor the aggressor and encourage barrelling and other times they are better for a check-caller’s range.

“When a flush or straight completes I think too many amateur players put their opponents on a flush precisely. They forget about all the other hand combinations that the villain makes it to this stage of the hand with. This presents a great spanking opportunity.”

I hope that helps you understand the concept of Scare Cards more precisely. Now go out and find someone to spank.



Poker Lessons from The Stoics: On No Control & Saying No

Stoic philosophy and its lessons are en vogue in entrepreneurial circles right now.

Tim Ferriss wrote a blog post called Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs and also created a 3-volume audio book called The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters From a Stoic Master. 

Author and entrepreneur, Ryan Holiday, went one step further and created a website called The Daily Stoic and created a book of the same name called The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.

If entrepreneurs can learn to implement the wisdom of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius into their daily lives, then so can poker players.

With that in mind I offer you three pieces of Stoic wisdom that will improve your game.

1. Take Control of No Control

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.


“Where do I then look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.”




The last time you were annoyed was the cause under your control? I doubt it.

Stoic philosophers have a thing about control. They believe we only have the power to control our thoughts and the choices that arise from them.

Understanding this philosophy means it’s our reaction to causality that creates the annoyance, not the other way around (unless someone physically hurts you). 

Don’t spend time concerned about things you can’t control. Spend that time figuring out how best to react to external stimuli.

Think about all the things that are outside of your control at the poker table. Here is a short list.

The deck The dealer The action of your opponents The blind structure

dealer at the finaltable 2
So much you can’t control.

Learn to cultivate a greater understanding of control and choice by building this habit into your morning routine.

Upon waking up, write a list of all the things you expect to happen in your day that are outside of your control and how you will react.

At the end of the day, when checking-in, evaluate progress.

2. Poker Is More Than a Game

“What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated-tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom.


“We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”


– Epictetus

Thor Hansen IMG 6918
Poker is life.

I recently conducted a survey of professional poker players. I asked them if they would want their children to choose poker as their profession.

The overwhelming response was negative, but all of them said they wanted their children to learn the lessons of life that poker has to teach.

Poker is a microcosm of life. It’s a game that teachers should teach in school, for many reasons. Not only for the fundamentals of mathematics but deductive reasoning, rationality, how to communicate and a whole host of other benefits.

When approaching poker it’s important to take up the vision of the owl and not the mole. Don’t consider poker a game.

Think of it as an opportunity for education. Then understand that we seek education not to become smarter or to look better amongst our peers. We look towards education to learn how to live.

None of us is born with the rulebook of life. Turn poker into much more than a game. Turn it into a game of life.

3. Learn to Say No

Say no to anger, frustration, cockiness and distraction

“How many have laid waste to your life when you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire and social amusements – how little of your own was left to you.


“You will realise you are dying before your time!”


– Seneca

There are 1,440 minutes in the day. The majority of us spend 480 of them asleep. That leaves 960 minutes to learn to live.

Time – not money – is the most precious of resources. We have to make every minute count and to do this we need to learn to say ‘no.’

One of the ways poker players can benefit from this wisdom is to think of all the negative emotions and behaviours that lead to tilt. Think about the times when the missed flush results in anger.

What about the time you become over confident because the deck kept hitting you in the face? How many poker apps do you have open on your phone when you are supposed to be playing?

Just say no to anger, frustration, cockiness and distraction. What else in life do you need to say ‘no’ to so your poker game can prosper?

My gratitude goes out to Ryan Holiday, the author of The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living for the ideas and concepts covered in this article.



How Approval Addiction Can Wreck Your Poker Performance

“They don’t like you.”

Four little brass-knuckle punches to the gut.

A poker player told me that two well-known British poker players didn’t like me. 

As a writer, it’s not unusual to be disliked. Those four words should just breeze through me like Casper would.

But it’s several days later and I’m still holding an internal dialogue. Why don’t they like me? They’ve never even met me. They’ve never spoken to me.

And then I take it deeper. This is what’s wrong with the world. We dislike people without giving them a chance.

Why does it bother me so much? Why do I crave the approval of others? It’s an addiction.

I Was Woody Wallpecker

When I was a kid I had wood chip wallpaper. For reasons I can’t remember I used to pick the wood chips out from behind the paper leaving holes everywhere.


My parents would tell me off but I was like Woody Wallpecker. I couldn’t stop picking.

One day my Dad sat me down and said, “If you pick one more piece of wood out of the wallpaper I’ll send you to a home.”

My Dad is not my biological Dad. The other guy with the sperm fucked off before I was born. I have always felt abandoned. Like a child left in a Moses basket outside a fire station.

Threatening to send me to a home didn’t help things. But there it is: the root cause of my approval addiction.

Ever since my father threatened to send me to a home I have felt unloved, unwanted and craved the attention of others in the form of sex, love and kind words.

It has affected me in every area of my life. Work. Relationships. Hobbies.


We Can Only Control Our Thoughts

An addiction to approval can be a nightmare for your poker game. You play the game in a straightjacket, fearful of the view of others.

You keep risks to a minimum. You are not as aggressive as you should be. You take the path of least resistance. Your game becomes stale. And it’s ridiculous.

The core principle of Stoic philosophy is ‘we can only control our thoughts.’ Only our thoughts have the ability to elevate our spirits or amputate them with a bone saw.

Nothing that anybody else says matters.

Nothing that anybody else says matters. Other people’s opinions cannot create pain unless we believe there is an element of truth in what they say.

Imagine you are sat at a poker table wearing a red top, red jeans and red trainers. A man who you know is a goalkeeper short of a football team comes up to you and starts calling you The Devil.

How would you feel? You wouldn’t care. You would think the guy is nuts and get on with your game because you wouldn’t believe his statement was true.

His opinion is not your problem. It’s his.

It’s human nature for approval to feel good and disapproval to feel unpleasant. These natural forces only turn into a whirlwind if you start to use the feedback as a measure of your self-worth.

We judge, that’s what humans do. You might be judging my writing right now.

How many times have you moaned and groaned about people? Wished that they would just shut the hell up and keep their bad beat story to themselves? Or silently mocked someone for their terrible play on the river.

Ask yourself this question: “When thinking this way were you casting a moral judgment that the person at the end of your vitriol was a crappy human being?” 

The Self-Respect Blueprint

It wasn’t my fault my Dad didn’t have any idea how to express love and kindness to his child. He was raised by a father who knew no better. He followed the rule book of life handed down to him.

You’ll feel like Antonius in no time.

But it is my fault if I continue to wallow in this stinking pit of vulnerability as an adult. I am a big boy. I know that a narrative from the past is nothing but a memory.

I am choosing to link a negative association to it. And if I want to move on in life and be able to show more confidence in my relationships, work and at the poker table, then I need to do something about it.

I took advice from a man called David Burns, the author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and the co-host of the Feeling Good podcast. I wrote an entry in my journal titled: Why it is Irrational and Unnecessary to Live in Fear of Disapproval or Criticism.

As I put fingers to keyboard I started to feel much better and it dawned on me that this practice would also improve my poker game. Here are some bullet points from my notes:

1. When someone critiques my play at the poker tables or reacts negatively to me in other ways, it’s very likely that their irrational thinking is their problem and that has nothing to do with me.

2. If the criticism is valid. If I did make the incorrect call and found favor with the Poker Gods, then that doesn’t mean I am a bad poker player. I made a mistake. Phil Ivey became the greatest player in the world by making mistakes and learning from them. So stop sulking and learn.

3. Sticking with the incorrect play, what was your play like before that? What about the play after that? What about your plays during your session that day? What about every hand of poker you have ever played in your life? Did you screw them all up? How many of them did you get right?

4. People will judge your game but their judgment cannot affect your performance. Only self-reflection effects your performance – your thoughts and beliefs.

5. Even though that one person thought you made a howler, not everyone will share that opinion. The beautiful thing about poker is the variety of different ways of looking at a hand. Meaning not everyone will reject you because of your mistake.

6. Suffering is a part of growth. Suffering is a part of poker. You must take risks to become a great poker player. These risks carry pain. It hurts. But it’s only a flesh wound more akin to a pinprick than a shotgun wound to the head. The pain will pass.

Being critical is natural. But is it useful?

7. How do you know if the person’s negative view of your play is because he doesn’t like you? And even if so, have you asked them why they don’t like you? Sometimes inquiry can reveal that the problem was illusory. Sometimes gossip is just gossip.

8. I criticize people all of the time. It seems to come naturally to me. I am not casting aspersions on their moral character when I do this. I am venting. So why do I believe that every little criticism about me is a moral issue? It cannot be. They are human just like me.

Not That Little Kid Anymore 

1,200 words later and I already feel much better. My mood has lightened. I feel confident to ask these two players why they don’t like me.

The feedback I receive could make me a better writer; maybe even a better person. But I don’t think I will bother. I am not that little kid anymore.



How to Beat The Poker Bully Part 2: Think Math, Not Ego

Math is your friend.

Dominik Nitsche is a 3-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, a World Poker Tour (WPT) Champion and an ambassador for 888Poker.

And he is still a pup.

In How to Beat The Poker Bully Part 1: End The Enabling I gave you some insight into how I dealt with bullies playing in the amateur games.

But what about the stronger games? I asked the young pup Nitsche how he deals with the rabid dogs on the elite poker circuit and this is what he had to say.

Bully is a Misnomer

Nitsche believes that thinking in terms like ‘Table Captain’ or ‘Bully’ is incorrect.

“Every good player realizes that poker is played one hand at a time,” says Nitsche. “The goal is always to make the best decision possible.”

Traditional poker ‘bullies’ amp up their aggression and bet and raise at a higher frequency. Nitsche says this way of playing is neither right or wrong.

Dominik Nitsche2
“All that matters is playing each hand optimally.”

The term Bully is a misnomer. All that matters is playing each hand optimally.

Poker is Not About Ego

Poker pushes your psychological boundaries. In Part I I wrote about the schoolyard bullies and how my Dad taught me to fight aggression with aggression.

Thinking like my Father is ego-based. In winning poker, ego is the enemy. As Nitsche explains:

“Think about it this way. Is the guy open raising 73s from mid-position making a profitable play?


“It might be if the people behind him are playing too tight. Is he making the right play three-betting you with 92s on the button?


“Unlikely, but that’s when you need to start thinking about adjusting your strategy. Poker is not about ego.” 

But if poker is not ego, what is it?

Poker is Math

“Poker is about making the correct mathematical decision,” says Nitsche. “If someone plays too loose and aggressive they become exploitable.


“Your strategy should now change to exploit their weaknesses. The same theory stands if they play too tight.”

Think about the persona of a bully: a grandiose, larger-than-life personality. Exploitable isn’t the term that one would use when you see them in action but Nitsche makes it seem so obvious.

Bullies? I love bullies.

A bully is one of the most exploitable players in the game.

Play each hand mathematically correct and, if that creates the persona of a bully, then that’s a by-product of changing our strategy depending on the actions of the other players at the table.

If we are at a table of competent players and we happen to be running hot, then we may appear to be a bully. Given what we have learned from Nitsche, though, we can then assume that the other players may feel we are playing too loose.

Adapt, and we can use that knowledge to our advantage. But how do we exploit the Bully?

Find The Spot, Aim & Fire

Every poker player has a weakness. Professionals like Nitsche eke out their edges by finding them. It’s David vs. Goliath 101.

It’s not about finding the right stone. It’s about finding the right place to aim.

“In my opinion, people who are extremely aggressive are easy to play against,” says Nitsche. “You don’t even need to change your game that much.


“Make sure you open a solid selection of starting hands and the rest should take care of itself. That’s a good way to counter a frequent three-bettor.”

Dominik Nitsche
Find the right spot on the arm.

Nitsche continues with this advice:

“I wouldn’t tighten up your opening range just because one player at the table appears to be three-betting you a lot. Continue with strong suited connectors, stronger off suit Broadway hands and pairs.


“If your opponent keeps on going crazy then you can consider four-bet jamming if stacks are 50bb or less and you have a suited ace or pocket pair.


“Another great way to deal with them is to set a trap pre-flop by just calling their three-bet with aces. If they are three-betting a lot of hands they will be folding to a lot of four-bets, and we have to be mindful.


“You can also four-bet as a bluff but I find that either folding or calling is usually the better option, unless like previously stated stacks are 50bb or less where you can consider jamming.


“If you are deep, four-bet folding doesn’t hurt at badly as you think it will.”

There you have it. Really easy to play against.

If you can drop the ego, resist turning the game into a testosterone-filled tussle and play the poker fundamentals sprinkled with some savvy, then there’s no need to be concerned about a player who appears to be running over the table.

Not As Many As You Think

dominik nitsche 2
Knocked out a few bullies in his time.

Poker bullies aren’t even as prevalent as you think they are. As Nitsche explains:

“Nowadays people have learned to deal better with aggression so unfortunately you won’t find a complete maniac or bully that often anymore.


“If you do they usually won’t be around for very long. In full ring poker you simply can’t run a table over. Unless everyone is playing way too tight of course!”

Know When to Kick the Chair

Did you notice the use of the word ‘unfortunately’ in that last statement? Players of the calibre of Nitsche love playing against bullies. Think about that.

Don’t be a bully. Instead, remember to play each hand optimally with a focus on the right mathematical play.

If you do face a bully, which will be rare, then don’t sweat when it comes to folding hands that are near the bottom of your opening range.

It’s not about ego. It’s about the right play. Your job is to be patient, hand them some rope and know when to kick the chair. 



Eight Biases That Are Making You Worse at Poker

It’s hard to escape your personal biases.

That’s one of the main points behind celebrated Magic: The Gathering pro Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s excellent “8 Biases That Are Making You Worse at Magic” that was published earlier this year on channelfireball.com.

The piece struck a chord with the M:TG community with both pros and amateurs taking an honest look at certain areas their games with plenty of open discussion about cognitive bias.

Basically the idea is that these cognitive biases lead to bad judgment and irrational decisions.

M: TG and poker are not exactly the same but they do share some similarities. They’re both card games and they both involve both strategy and luck.

We’re going to do our best to adapt all eight of da Rosa’s concepts to poker. Who knows, you might just learn something.

1. Peak-End Rule

That people seem to perceive not the sum of an experience but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g., pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended.

This one has some very direct correlations to poker. Namely that you can get incredibly lucky in the latter portions of a cash game and walk away feeling that you played well.

If you’ve been steadily losing over the course of a cash game and then have the fortune of out-racing your opponent’s QQ with A-J that’s not an indication of solid play.

Another way to interpret this rule is during a tournament you make a hero call that gets you a solid pot but you end up bleeding all your chips away by failing to defend your blinds or some other fundamental mistake.

Making big plays in poker is really fun, and it feels great, but you can’t judge your entire session based on one hand.

Be honest when you evaluate your session, even when you are winning, and you should be able to shore up your deficiencies faster.

2. Gambler’s Fallacy

The tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality they are unchanged.

This might be the most relevant point for poker players who can definitely relate to the gambling aspect.

Most poker players are already probably familiar with the concept of Gambler’s Fallacy but the basic idea is that just because you’ve had a bad experience with a certain play in the past doesn’t necessary mean you should stop employing it.

For instance pocket tens is a good hand but it can be beaten. If you get pocket tens cracked by J-T twice in a row that doesn’t mean you should stop playing it.

You need to critically evaluate every play that you make regardless of outcome. If the play is correct then you should keep making it.

3. Illusion of Control

The tendency to overestimate one’s degree of influence over other external events.

This one is huge in poker.

We tend to believe we are in control when we’re playing poker but the game clearly contains a significant element of luck.

There are many times that you will lose at the tables and it’s absolutely not your fault.

Sometimes we even justify our losses by pointing to some abstract play so that we can sleep at night. The fact is sometimes you just get unlucky. You have to move on from those games and avoid dwelling on them.

Serious problems can arise when we start correcting problems that don’t exist.

Even the best poker players in the world spend a lot of time losing. That includes the Phil Iveys and Daniel Negreanus of the world.

The flip side is that even when we win sometimes it’s not because we were “in control”. Sometimes you just get lucky.

If you want to be successful at poker you’ll have to accept that some things are out of your control.

4. Outcome Bias

The tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.

This is another big one in poker and similar in some ways to Illusion of Control.

In 2006 Jamie Gold won the Main Event for $12m utilizing an unusual strategy where he frequently told his opponents what he had (although he lied sometimes).

Most pros didn’t find it to be the most compelling strategy.

Since then Gold has had very little success in the poker world despite playing numerous tournaments for free. He would even admit he’s not the best poker player in the world despite his record-setting victory.

You also didn’t see a large group of professional poker players switching their style completely to emulate Gold’s extraordinary achievement.

That’s why it’s important to avoid being results oriented in poker. You should first focus on the process and results will eventually follow.

There are plenty of bad poker players who have won big tournaments over the years.

You personally might win a poker tournament by going all-in every hand. That doesn’t make it the best strategy.

5. Insensitivity to Sample Size

The tendency to under-expect variation in small samples.

There’s a great deal of variance in poker but eventually the good players will rise to the top.

What some people misunderstand is just how long that takes and what consists of a good sample size.

There are a large number of poker players who only play a couple hundred hands each month. That’s not really a big enough sample size to accurately judge your level of play, whether it’s good or bad.

Consider this: when backers are taking on new players they usually request hand histories in the range of 20,000-50,000 hands just to get an estimate. 100,000 hands is even better.

For us mere mortals, 10,000 hands is a good place to start.

Whatever you do: don’t quit your day job based on a winning record over a couple thousand hands. Anyone can run hot.

6. Selective Perception

The tendency for expectations to affect perception.

This translates into poker in a more subtle way than some of the previous concepts.

Basically the idea behind selective perception is that you get too attached to hands or plays that have worked out for you in the past.

For instance pocket kings is an extremely strong starting hand but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should fire bets on all streets if an ace hits the flop.

That’s an obvious example but you also might get attached to a certain hand (say pocket nines) because you won a big pot with it.

Once you have that particularly big win with pocket nines you may start ignoring the signs that you are seriously over overplaying nines because of that one score.

You simply cannot ignore evidence that a certain hand or strategy is not working for you, despite limited experiences in the past that paid dividends.

7. Availability Cascade

A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or “repeat something long enough and it will become true”).

This is another one that’s more challenging to relate to poker but there are definitely examples of it.

The idea behind an availability cascade is that once a strategy starts building momentum it continues to gain acceptance, even if it’s not the greatest strategy.

Basically it’s a group or mob mentality. Strategy A is correct because everyone says so. It triggers a chain reaction.

Another way to look at this is that there are players like Vanessa Selbst, Tom Dwan and Viktor Blom who make unusual plays that conflict with traditional strategy.

The problem is that if you play poker 100% by the books then your game becomes stagnant and predictable.

The answer is to once again evaluate information critically and avoid taking all strategy advice at face value.

8. Pro-Innovation Bias

The tendency to have an excessive optimism toward an invention or innovation’s usefulness throughout society, while often failing to identify its limitations and weaknesses.

This might be the only concept in da Rosa’s article that doesn’t really have a direct correlation to poker.

Magic: The Gathering is a constantly evolving game in which new cards are constantly being introduced. Sometimes new sets get undeserved amounts of praise simply because they are “the new shiny.”

Poker is a much more static game so there isn’t as much pro-innovation bias. Many strategies have been the same for the last 10 years.

Perhaps the only way you could relate this to poker was during the mid-2000s when the rise of online poker led to poker players favoring all-out aggression in order to play like Dario Minieri or Tom Dwan.

That style of poker was given a considerable amount of consideration simply because people were seeing Dwan completely own old-school players on High-Stakes Poker with marginal hands.

No one had really seen that before and everyone wanted to “durrrr” their opponents.

The poker meta has slowed down considerably since then since most people realize they are, in fact, not Tom Dwan.

Do you see any better analogies to pro-innovation bias in poker? Let us know in the comments.



3 Poker Freeroll Strategies That Don't Work (& 1 That Does)

Have you ever wondered why you never win any of those poker freerolls you play?

For new players they’re called bankroll boosters, exclusive ‘New Player’ events and similar. They look like you could make some easy money but they can end up a source of frustration and bad beat stories.

The reason is you’re doing it wrong!

Read on and ask yourself if you can find your play in any of these categories. If yes, you have something to fix; if not, we’ll take everything back and say you’re just the unluckiest player in the world.

Here are 3 main poker freeroll strategies you’ve seen a hundred times — but still shouldn’t copy.

1) Going All-In All of the Time

How often have you been busted by that terrible player who just moves all-in every single hand? Too often, right? Why do you think this happened? Because the guy is Russian?

All In at WSOP 2015 Main Event
Always shoving? Not good.

If you believe a poker room makes you lose on purpose to favor a worse player — while at the same time trying to make you come back — there’s something wrong with your analytic thinking.

You might think the guy does that because he’s drunk (and he might well be) or maybe he just doesn’t care. But that guy isn’t going to win the tournament even if he gets lucky to bust you.

And that’s why you shouldn’t adopt that strategy. It’s simple. The math is against that strategy and it will catch up with you at some point. The more often this works, the closer you get to the end of that streak. It’s never going to last all the way.

Also, you’re not losing as often as you think. Jot down the hands where you call a random all-in with a better hand. You’ll notice you’re pretty close to what equity expects.

If you let yourself get frustrated and just push in all the time, it won’t take long until you’re picked off by a big pair and that’ll be the end of it. If you don’t believe it, try it a couple of times. After all, it won’t cost you anything.

2) Bluffing

When you play in a freeroll, don’t bluff. Don’t even think about it. Why? Because of the nine people at your table right now:

Phil Ivey and the best bluffs
Big bluffs? Waste of time.

3 don’t know how to play 3 are playing in all the freerolls they can find and 2 don’t care at all what they’re doing

Each and every one of your bluffs will be called by a random hand from someone who doesn’t realize he shouldn’t call. And he’ll still have the better hand.

Don’t expect common sense because you won’t find it. The button you clicked on to play in the freeroll shouldn’t read “register.” It should read “you agree to forget common sense.”

In fact the only reason it doesn’t say that is probably because the phrase is too long for one button.

3) Playing ABC Poker

Didn’t you read the paragraph above? You’re trying to apply common sense again. Don’t forget that people do. not. care.

Donkey hat
Freeroll world works … differently.

Forget all the poker strategy articles you’ve read because the freeroll world works differently. It’s like a place close to a Black Hole where physics doesn’t work as usual.

Do you think a 3x raise with a good hand will win you the pot if no one else has something? Not gonna happen.

The concept of “raise and take” is also absent from this world. Try it, you’ll see.

Checking it down with someone else to bust a small stack? Not happening either. You’ll face an all-in on the river. Brace yourself.

The Strategy That Works in Freerolls

As we have now established that all traditional strategies don’t work and we’re mostly facing careless and bad players under the influence, we’re going to use that to our advantage.

A few rules of thumb will get you started:

1) Do a Lot of Limping

You won’t find that in a strategy article but do it anyway. Any hand you raise from early position, you’ll probably be faced by an all-in — even in Level 1.

So, you can raise your A-K and J-J+ but you’ll always be up against at least two players. Check a poker odds calculator to see your equity against two random hands; it’s not very good.

Instead, limp with a lot of hands and play the flop. The later your position, the more hands you can limp.

If you flop two pair, push. If you flop a set, push. There’s always someone calling with top pair or even just overcards like A-Q.

Jamie Gold
The ‘ol Jamie Gold top-top is good most of the time.

2) Call with Top-Top

Even so, you shouldn’t play good hands too aggressively. You should always call something like A-K on a board like A-T-9-5-3.

You’ll sometimes look at 9-5 or even 4-2, but much more often at A-Q, A-J, K-K, Q-Q, J-J or even just second pair. Top pair, top kicker will be the best hand most of the time.

3) Push Your Monsters

If you find pocket jacks or better, don’t slow play. Don’t try to trap; don’t try to be smart.

Just push all-in and wait. Worse hands will call you and, although they will sometimes win (they have to as you never have 100% equity pre-flop), you’ll often build a big stack very early on.

All in all, loose-passive play will get you going. Quite the contrary of what you expected, no?

Return to ABC Poker

When you make it to the deeper stages of a freeroll you can apply ABC poker again as all the punters will be gone. If you make the final, you’ll have to get just as lucky as at any other final table.

Keep these simple rules at heart and you will spare yourself a lot of frustration. Oh, and if you want to play some real poker? You’ll have to put up some real money.



Poker Workshop: Where I Went Wrong in the Unibet Poker Open

Ian Simpson lends a hand (Photo: Unibet Poker)

I love Brighton. I love Unibet.

And so when I got the opportunity to compete in the first stop of the Unibet UK Poker Tour in the Rendezvous Casino, Brighton, I chucked the nipper in the back seat with the wife, loaded up on nappies and our harmonica (it’s the only thing that stops the nipper from crying), and headed to the South Coast.

The buy-in was £220. The guarantee was £40,000. £220 is at the low end when it comes to competing in a tournament of this quality, but I know that £220 is still a fortnight’s grocery shopping.

Unibet is also aware of this and that’s why they run so many online satellites for these things and the throughput is good.

You start with a 25,000 starting stack and 40-minute levels. I never felt rushed. There was plenty of playability. The field consisted of a mixture of locals, online qualifiers and a few professionals thrown into the mix for good measure.

Amongst those professionals were a host of Unibet Ambassadors. They have chosen them wisely. Each of them connects with the grassroots player and it was easy to see why these tours work.

It was a 2-Day event and I made the second day. It was the first time I had played a hand of poker since September.

Rusty, but ready. (Photo: Unibet Poker)

I was rusty. I made mistakes. And I reached out to Unibet Ambassador, Ian Simpson, to help me figure out where I went wrong. This is what he had to say.

Day 1A Hand #1 Blinds 75/150

UTG limps, a player in MP bets 450, a player in LP calls and I call in the SB with A♣ T♥.

Flop: 9♦ 8♣ 6♦ The action is checked to the turn.

Turn: J♠

Checks to the raiser who bets 750. I decide to fold.

Ian Simpson’s View

“Pre-flop we can make an argument for all three decisions: folding, calling and raising. For folding, we are out-of-position with an offsuit middling ace. There has been a bet and a call which makes our hand pretty marginal at best and the UTG limper can always wake up with a nasty limp-raise leaving our money dead in the middle. 

“Calling is my least preferred option. We will be out-of-position with an unsuited mediocre Ax hand vs. at least two players and probably more than that. Our hand plays poorly multi-way. ATs would be a lovely hand to flat-call with. 

“Raising is an interesting idea. We do have an Ace blocker making it harder for our opponents to have AA, AK, AQ-type hands. The ten we have makes us just barely connected adding just a squeak of equity to our hand and our two big cards give us scope to outdraw pocket pairs on the flop. 

Raising = interesting idea (Photo: Unibet Poker)

“The UTG limper adds an interesting dynamic. The initial raiser could just be deciding to isolate this player with a wide range while the caller would probably have already 3-bet a strong hand fearing a multi-way pot developing due to the added odds created by said limper.

“If I haven’t done much 3-betting I would probably take this route as the hand makes a decent 3-bet candidate for the above reasons. If I have been at it, I would probably opt for a slightly tight fold.”

Hand #2 Blinds 300/600 A50

I open A♥ 9♥ UTG+1 for 1.6k off 32bb and the BB calls off 100bb+.

Flop: 9♠ 7♠ 7♥ Both check.

Turn: 2♥

He checks; I bet 1.6k and he calls.

River: K♦

He bets 3.6k. I call and win.

Ian Simpson’s View

“As my stack gets smaller I tend to lower my opening raise size to give myself more playability post flop. With 32 big blinds I’m happy to come in for a raise but I would make it 1,300, just a little above the minimum raise.

“I do this to save a few hundred chips when I face a 3-bet and to play a smaller pot post flop making my continuation-bet bluffs all the smaller.

As stack shrinks, so does raise size. (Photo: Unibet Poker)

“We flop pretty well for our hand and only face one opponent. Always ask ‘can a better hand fold, can a worse hand call and can we make someone fold out a significant amount of equity?’

“On this flop worse hands that can call us are flush draws, worse 9x hands (fewer of these because we hold a nine ourselves) and pocket pairs 88, 66, 55, 44, 33, 22. 

“Hands with decent equity against us that won’t contest to a bet, hands like QT, KT, KJ, are something to think about. But that little heart on the flop actually makes quite the difference in the hand and makes me much happier checking the hand against this part of his range because, if he has two overcards and hits, quite often that will also give us a nut-flush draw and the chance to redraw on him a good % of the time.

“I don’t hate checking, for this reason, it controls the pot for the rare times he has 7x and stops him check-raising draws creating a very large pot where we will probably be a coin flip to win the hand.

“But I think I prefer a small c-bet here as I think there are enough second-best hands my opponent can have for us to get value from.”

Hand #3 Blinds 300/600 A50

A 100+bb stack opens to 1.5k UTG and I call with 8♥ 7♥ OTB with 35bb. The SB squeezes to 6k, the 100+bb stack 4-bets and we both fold.

She had been three-betting light and folding to 4-bets. With this knowledge should I have three-bet the 87hh?

Ian Simpson’s View

“With 35 big blinds and being charged 2.5 big blinds to call we do not have the implied odds to play this very pretty hand.

“This situation always makes me die a little on the inside because they are my favourite hands in poker! I want to have at least 20:1 implied odds with suited connectors and we have to remember that the blinds can wake up with a squeeze play just like they did in this hand! 

What he said. (Photo: Unibet Poker)

“You ask a very good question – should we or could we 3-bet the 78hh? I’ve recently demoted suited connectors to my absolute last resort 3-bet hands, to be reserved for bubble spots in a tournament against very poor players.

“The lack of a blocker makes them a poor choice for a 3-bet bluff as we do not reduce the number of combinations of big hands our opponent can have like we do if we choose to 3-bet a hand like A5dd or K9ss.

“There is an argument for having board coverage in all of our ranges – that is being able to hit certain types of boards, like 567 type flops, hard when we 3-bet.

“But in live poker this is all the less important since we likely will not generate a huge sample size against our opponent for this to matter too much. I would just fold pre.”

Hand #4 Blinds 300/600 A50

A very weak player limps into the pot off a stack of 45bb. I raise to 2k from the SB to isolate off 32bb holding A♠ 8♠ but the BB calls.

Flop: J♠ T♣ 6♥

I bet 2k and they both call.

Turn: Q♦

I bet 5k, the BB folds and the limper calls.

River: 7♦

I brick but move all-in for 15k. He folds. In my thought process I had sets and Broadway and he had weaker one- and two-pair hands. However I wasn’t sure he would fold given that it was a re-entry but I felt like I had no choice but to go with it.

Ian Simpson’s Response

“I like the idea of isolating a weak limper with a raise. I would much prefer to do it for a smaller bet, however, as I said in Hand 2. I like to lower my pre-flop raises as my stack gets shallower.

You always have a choice. (Photo: Unibet Poker)

“Our fold equity vs. limpers is a bit of a funny thing. I’ve seen some limpers fold to minimum raises and I’ve seen some limpers refuse to fold regardless of the action. 

“One thing that seems to be true however is that typically limpers have weak ranges and in this instance we will have the position on them. I wouldn’t hate raising to just 2.5x the BB.

“We do lose fold equity but on the flip side we control the size of the pot and play against a weak range in position post-flop. That in itself is a lovely profitable situation. 

“I’ll probably be looking to leverage fold equity post-flop where limpers tend to play “fit or fold” rather than pre-flop when they can often be stubborn. In this hand we are the ones who dictate the price of play, and with a shallower stack we want to play lots of smaller pots against weak players rather than fewer bigger pots against them. 

“As played we go three-handed to the flop and miss almost completely, I do not continuation-bet this board three-handed although heads up vs. the limper I wouldn’t mind it. Checking is OK; we have scope to improve on the turn with our backdoor draws and our Ace-high can win at showdown by itself on occasion, too. 

“Later in the hand, you say: ‘However, I wasn’t sure he would fold given that it was a re-entry but I felt like I had no choice but to go with it.’ – You always have a choice!

“There is nothing wrong with not firing the 3rd barrel. Sure, you feel silly when you end up against a hand that would have folded. But if we triple-barrel bluff too much we will end up losing money.” 

Hand #5 Blinds 400/800 A100

I open from MP with A♣ A♠ to 1.6k; an aggressive player calls in position off a 60k+ stack and the biggest stack on the table calls in the BB.

Flop: Q♠ 7♣ 5♠

I bet 3.2k; there is a raise to 8k and the BB flats. I make it 32k to play, leaving 2k behind. They both fold after someone calls the clock on the BB, who said he had nothing but a draw.

Ian Simpson’s Response

“I think 3-betting the flop is a mistake in this hand. I think we will quite often make Qx fold with this play and only end up paying off when our opponent has sets.

“There are two spades out there and it does look a little like the big blind might have a draw, but we hold the As to give him one less out and give us a redraw should another spade land and he has the flush.

“I just call and look to get value against Qx somewhere down the line later in the hand.”

Consciously competent. (Photo: Unibet Poker)

My Takeaways

My lack of experience playing poker shines through with these hand examples. Professional players like Ian Simpson are unconsciously competent when they play poker.

While it’s true that every person is different, the scenarios they face become familiar enough to allow them to fill the white space left behind with more detailed analysis of a hand.

I am consciously competent, meaning I have to concentrate more on each hand and that doesn’t allow enough room for deeper poker thinking because I have to work hard to keep up with the basics.

My lack of mathematical reasoning, in particular odds and bet-sizing leaks, are some of the things I would address if I played more poker and it was important to me.

Although I have improved through hand analysis like this I still play the strength or prettiness of my hand without including the perspective of the wider picture.

I have much to learn. What did you think of Ian’s feedback?



How to Play Poker Like a Supercomputer (w/o Being One)

Jason Les: Next best thing to Supercomputer. (Photo: WPT)

200,000 years ago evolution pushed Homo Sapiens out of the womb and they dropped into the East African dirt.

An impression was made, like none other.

Despite being well down the food chain Homo Sapiens managed to travel all over the globe, killing everything they found and developing a cognitive ability that was unmatched in the animal kingdom.

Today, we dominate the planet. But you still wouldn’t bet on the Homo Sapien if the opponent were a Tiger, Shark or Gorilla. Even if that Sapien was Brock Lesnar.

We rule because of our intelligence. But what happens when a more intelligent species falls out of that womb?

If Homo Sapiens can create so much negligent chaos and carnage to our planet, other sentient beings and ourselves – what then of this ‘new God,’ as Sam Harris called AI in his Ted Talk: Can We Build AI Without Losing Control Over It?

This question has made people very nervous when it comes to the speed of artificial intelligence (AI) development – a lot of it due to Nick Bostrom’s views on What Happens When Our Computers Get Smarter Than We Are?

After all, nobody said the next leaders of our planet had to be flesh and blood.

Why We Can’t Stop AI Development 

According to the excellent Tim Urban article The AI Revolution: The Road to SuperIntelligence there are three stages of AI development and we are currently in the first, called Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI).


ANI technology is all around us. Think SIRI, Amazon Echo and GPS devices. These are AI capable of mastering a particular activity.

The next stage is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). The stage when the AI becomes better than humans at a broad range of activities.

The final stage is Artificial Superintelligence (ASI) when an AI reaches a level of intelligence that we can’t comprehend.

It’s important to understand that we cannot stop this advancement in technology. For every person or country who decides to stop working on AI because of the inherent dangers of the Control Issue, there will be another country desperate to take advantage.

And humans believe there is inherent good in the growth of AI. Imagine when we have ASI’s. There would be no disease, mortality wouldn’t be an issue and spreading our genes throughout the galaxy would be simpler.

Take the Carnegie Mellon University tag team of Tuomas Sandholm and Noam Brown, the creators of Claudico, Libratus and Lengpudashi – three poker ANIs that have competed against humans in Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em.

I doubt either Sandholm or Brown want to use their ANIs to grow into ASIs and take over the world. So let’s, like them, focus on the positives of poker AI for once.

AlphaGo’s Play Makes Us Feel Free

A little over a year ago Google’s AI team DeepMind created an ANI designed to best humans in the ancient game of Go. AlphaGo took on the South Korean legend, Lee Sedol, and AlphaGo won.


What was remarkable about AlphaGo’s victory is it came a decade ahead of predictions from some of the smartest Homo Sapiens to emerge in 200,000 years (just to hammer home the speed of exponential growth we are experiencing).

So that’s it, right? A game that has stood for over 3,000 years now dies because AI has proven it can beat humans.

Not quite. Recently, DeepMind announced plans to host the ‘Future of Go Summit’ in China where AI experts and some of the best GO players in the world will meet to discuss the future of AI as a result of the learning taking place in the field of gaming.

As part of this Summit AlphaGo will take on the World #1 Ke Jie in a best-of-three match. What is interesting about the Summit and the news stories that have emerged since Sedol was beaten 12 months ago can be summed up in this one quote by professional Go player, Zhou Ruiyang:

“AlphaGo’s play makes us feel free, that no move is impossible. Now everyone is trying to play in a style that hasn’t been tried before.”

Will Libratus Set Us Free?

Plenty of poker writers, including me, have written a lot of doomsday stuff since Libratus’s victory over Jason Les, Dong Kim, Daniel McAuley and Jimmy Chou at the turn of the year.

Jason Les
“No way it could be human.”

Just last month another ANI called Lengpudashi comprehensively defeated a team of Chinese players in an exhibition match on the island of Hainan.

But instead of writing about the existential threats Carnegie Mellon ANIs pose to poker, what could we learn from them? If Ruiyang now believes that any move is possible after learning from AlphaGo, could Les feel the same way about Libratus?

I reached out to both Les and Dong Kim, two of Libratus’ opponents (and two players who also competed against ANI Claudico in 2015) to see what humans can learn from their AI brethren.

“What made Libratus really good was that it had such a complicated mixed strategy,” Les told me during a Skype call.

“It played very specific combos of hands in different ways on the same types of boards. This allowed it to have hands in its range, always. This allowed it to not be negatively affected by card removal and to take advantage of card removal more than humans can.”

Was it obvious that the humans were competing against a Poker God or did it feel like playing Doug Polk or Ben Sulsky for 120,000 hands?

“It was so good there was no way it could have been a human,” Les said. “The mixed strategy and large bet sizes – it was a style, unlike any other human I had witnessed.

“It came up with its own approach which didn’t take into account any human bias or observations. It was a unique playing style.”

Libratus is Latin for Balance

“Libratus is Latin for a word that means: ‘balance’ I believe,” says Les, “and this is what we saw. In every situation it would have a bluff.

Mike Matusow
Most humans are not like that.

“Most humans are not like that. There are always some spots where a human thinks, ‘I am never bluffing here.’ Libratus knew it had to bluff, so it always had bluffs in every situation.

“Add to that it was not getting bluffed easily. A human might think, ‘He always has it here.’ Libratus doesn’t have that bias. It knows it has to call a certain percentage of the time so it’s calling.”

I asked both Kim and Les to think of ways that humans could learn from Libratus and make changes in their game so they could play more like their AI counterparts.

Both players expressed the enormity of the problem facing humans when trying to learn from the AI, but they did come up with a few useful tips.

5 Ways to Play Poker More Like a Super Computer 1. Don’t Anchor Bet Sizes to Pot Size

Dong Kim2
“AI used No-Limit to the fullest.”

“The AI really used ‘No-Limit’ to the fullest extent,” Kim explained on Twitter. “Most players don’t go all-in too often unless the pot is big but it was Libratus’s signature move.”

Les expanded on this point:

“In both NLHE and PLH you barely notice the difference between the games post-flop. Most people don’t bet more than the pot. When they do, it’s rare.

“When playing NLHE people seemed to be confined to betting a small range of sizes – quarter pot, half pot, three-quarters pot. Libratus doesn’t seem to have this problem.”

When I was taught to play poker my coach always asked me why I bet a certain amount. As a recreational player, without the time to study the game, I always struggled to answer this question.

One thing that always acted as an anchor for me was the size of the pot and it was something I picked up watching countless hours of training videos from some of the world’s best.

There would be distinct betting patterns like Les describes and betting over the pot was rare. It was as if the pot acted as an anchor that prevented too much movement.

People should be a lot more open to using more varied bet sizes above and beyond the pot,” said Les. “The pot is not a limit. It’s a reference point. I know people overbet but the frequency that humans do it compared to Libratus is a lot less.”

I asked Les what types of hands it was showing down after making a big overbet.

“It did it with a wide variety of hands,” he said. “You would see stuff that made no sense. It would c-bet two times the pot with the second pair.

“In a vacuum that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but as a part of its broader strategy that means when it overbets the pot and the turn pairs the second card, now he could have trips some of the time.”

2. Understand the Power of Card Removal

Card Stuff2
Card removal is a big deal.

Another area that both Kim and Les thought Libratus excelled at was its awareness of the effects of Card Removal as a part of its overall strategy. 

The Card Removal effect is the understanding that the cards you hold in your hand make it less likely that your opponent holds the same. This, in turn, affects your range calculations and betting strategies. 

“The way it created its ranges to account for card removal made it very tough,” said Les. “It was very aware of how the cards it held would affect its opponent’s range. 

How can humans learn from this?

“Humans can get better by thinking how the cards in their hand effect what their opponent has,” said Les. “They should think about that in both calling and betting. Am I blocking bluffs, am I blocking his folds? 

3. Balance, Balance, Balance

Fedor Holz 2015 WSOP Main Event 3
Has Fedor mastered balance?

The overwhelming difference between the AI and Humans was Libratus’s balanced strategy. It was incredibly difficult for the humans to define a range for the AI. 

“Libratus distributes its hands over every type of action,” said Les. “That’s something humans can’t do as well.

“It will take the same hand and some percentage of the time it will bet, sometime it will check and call and sometimes check and fold. It’s not affected by card removal of what an opponent could have. It’s averaged over all the possibilities and that gives it a lot more balance.

Humans on average are going to have an imbalance in every direction. In certain situations, they are blocking way too much and don’t have enough value.

“In other situations they are not blocking enough and have too much value. Other times you see people folding too much or not betting enough.”

I asked Les how a human would begin to learn if they have an imbalanced strategy.

“The only way you can do this is to sit down and study away from the tables. You can look at a situation and think, ‘What are all the hands I would bet here? How many are bluffs and how many are value?’

“People would work that out and think, ‘Shit, I am not bluffing that much here.’ That’s a time-consuming exercise but something you need to do over and over again to craft your strategy to be a better poker player.”

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things

Millions of hands means new ideas.

One of the first things Kim pointed out was the way that Libratus learned to play poker. It didn’t compete with human players until the challenge. It played itself, and it played a lot – billions of hands.

If the online wizards changed the face of the game when online poker allowed them to cram more hands into a month than Doyle Brunson managed in a lifetime, then think of the capabilities of an ANI designed to do nothing but play poker.

“Libratus taught itself by playing against itself over billions of hands. Humans can’t do that,” said Les. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things and objectively analyze how they went.

“You can try to do something, get unlucky, lose the hand and give up. You shouldn’t do that; you should be more objective.”

5. Recalibrate End Game on Turn and River


Another area that Kim spotted that humans could learn from was the time Libratus took when making decisions from the turn onwards. Speaking to Les about this, it appears that it came down to design.

Libratus could obviously make more accurate decisions than humans in a quicker space of time, but it slowed down on the turn because it was designed that way. As Les explains: 

“When Libratus got to the turn it would recalculate its strategy using something called ‘The End Game Solver.’ I don’t have the technical knowledge to tell you how that works, but it recalculated its strategy on the turn to play the turn and river close to perfectly from that point onwards.

“Libratus would stop and think for 30-40 seconds about what it was going to do from the turn onwards. Humans should think through what they are doing.

“I don’t want poker turning into everyone tanking for 45 seconds on the turn; I can’t live through another month of that. But don’t get into auto-pilot mode. Think through what you are doing.

“Maybe the middle of the hand on the turn is a good spot to think about what has happened so far and what your plan is going forward.”

Will Humans and AI Ever Work Together?

So there are things that humans can learn from Libratus. But, going forward for both humans and AI, the problem is going to be computing power.

Mike McDonald HoloLens
Next step training?

If folks like Sandholm and Brown want to turn ANIs into AGIs, they’ll have to wait until they have the computational power to make this happen.

According to the research I did, this could happen within the next decade. Humans have a similar problem called the skull. So moving forward it seems humans are going to need AI to aid in their intellectual evolution.

Taking the Libratus v Humans match up as an example, Les and Kim have pointed out some great lessons that humans can learn. But without technology it’s going to be difficult to assimilate it. 

“I imagine, down the line, we’ll see more training tools that will use better AI,” said Les. “This technology keeps advancing, and when we can afford to use it on reasonably priced computers, people can use this tech as a learning aid.

“People ask me what am I going to take from Libratus and put into my game. It’s the things we talked about, but its strategy is so intricate it takes a lot of time and thinking to come up with a cohesive strategy. This is where AI tech could help.”

Finally, I asked Les if he believed humans would ever beat AI. And what does the future hold for poker and AI as a partnership?

Are we going to see people screaming for the world’s most proficient heads-up players to take on Libratus? Or are we going to see AI and humans working more cohesively like in the Go community?

Humans are probably never going to be able to beat it,” Les says. “I like the idea of Man v Machine competitions. If they are doing it with Go then why not poker?

“In chess, while AI dominates humans, the best chess team is an AI and human partnership. Maybe that could happen in poker with the two working together to form a more rounded strategy.”

Or perhaps, Libratus will get so intelligent, and bored, that at some point down the road it gets so pissed off at being asked to beat humans at poker it decides the best way to achieve the goal is to kill all humans.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it. What do you think is the future of poker and AI?



Daniel Negreanu’s 7 Golden Rules for Poker Beginners

The reverse, reverse “i’m in trouble” tell.

If you had a chance to play your first major live tournament and you could seek advice from Daniel Negreanu, what would your questions be?

Just before the main event kicked off at the 2017 PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo, the Canadian PokerStars Pro casually sat down with a table full of recreational players.

There was no schedule and no agenda; just a Meet & Greet in the main event area with a lot of laughter and banter and the Mediterranean sun shining through the open roof of the Salles des Etoiles at the Casino Monte Carlo.

We sat down with them and listened to the questions and answers. We won’t go through all of them here but summarized the key points Negreanu urged his listeners to memorize.

1. Don’t Show if You Don’t Have To

DN: There’s no reason to show, no matter if you had it or if you were bluffing. People will pick up on how much you bet, what you looked like when you did it, and so on.

DAniel Negreanu qa fans 6
“What do you think the other guy is pushing with?”

At some point they will get back at you. Wait until you have more experience. 

I show sometimes, but I know why and I know what I’m doing. It’s part of my game play.

I want the players at the table to know what I’m capable of. But even I wouldn’t play this kind of game with everybody. It depends who’s sitting there.

Also, don’t overplay your hands. A-Q, for example, is a tricky hand.

Don’t 4-bet it because if you get pushed on you’re basically dead. What do you think the other guy is pushing with?

2. Reading People is About Small Things

DN: It’s about noticing and picking up, but it’s not the same things for everybody. It’s not easy and it takes time.

Careful you don’t get fooled. I do a lot of reverse, reverse tells for example. Once I bluffed in a tournament and put my face in my hand. That tournament was televised.

I got called and everybody saw I bluffed – at the table and on TV. For a year after that I made that exact move with my hand every time I had the nuts and I got paid off again and again.

3. Don’t Bluff

DN: I don’t bluff. Ever. Except maybe that one time against Isaac Haxton.

DAniel Negreanu qa fans 7
“If you think you should see a lot of flops when it’s cheap, you’re wrong.”

4. Don’t Loosen Up Early

DN: If you think you should see a lot of flops when it’s cheap, you’re wrong. That’s bad poker.

Don’t keep limping when the blinds are low. With blinds 25/50 there’s $75 in the pot you can win. That’s nothing.

Later, when there are antes, there’s a lot more to win if you can see a flop. That’s when you should loosen up.

5. Get Credit for Playing Tight

DN: If you haven’t played a hand for a while, make sure that people know you haven’t because only then you’ll get a lot of credit. If the others don’t realize you haven’t played a hand in a long time, then you can’t benefit from it.

DAniel Negreanu qa fans 3
Have a purpose!

6. Have a Purpose

DN: I believe it’s not enough to know what you want or where you want to go. You also need to know how to get there and why you want to get there.

Take a poker tournament for example. Why do you want to win it? The money, you say? Ok, but why? What are you going to do with it?

Or you just want to feel accomplished? Fine, but why is that so important for you? If you don’t have a purpose it’ll make it hard for you to achieve anything.

I’ve seen billionaires who only talk about making more money. People who’ll never go broke but complain if the coffee is $5. Why would they ever care?

These people believe in the lie that more is always better. They think if they have more money, they’ll be happier. But it doesn’t work like that.

7. Fail

DN: Failure is important. Everybody fails. I did it, too.

More than once I was in Vegas winning money, thinking I had the game figured out, and 24 hours later I was so broke that I had to walk back to my hotel.

These walks were very important for me. I still benefit from them because I learned something every time.



The Only Way to Win: How to Manage False Poker Expectations

I am in the Rio in Las Vegas playing and working at the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

I have just been eliminated from a $1,500 buy-in event and have decided to sit down in a $1/$3 Pot-Limit Omaha cash game because the list is too long for the No-Limit Hold’em tables.

I sit down with $300. Once I lose the $300 I will go home; a promise I made to my wife, who worries when I play cash games because I have a propensity to turn into the Hulk when I lose.

I build my stack up to $1,200 and I am feeling good. Then I lose a hand when I am way ahead. It happens again, and again, and I am broke. I pull a dollar bill out of my pocket and put it on the table.

“I’ll be right back,” I smile. I am not smiling on the inside. The Beast has a hold of my brain and is shaking it, screaming throughout the halls of my limbic system.

Why can’t I win?

“Why don’t you ever win!”

“Why can’t you be the lucky one who wins a million!”

“Why don’t you ever get a good start when you come to the WSOP? If you had a good start you could weather the later losses and have a great season!” 

“Why does this always happen to me!”

Nine Vultures Squawking

I’m back in my seat. I don’t remember the trip to the ATM and back. I sit down with another $600 and I get it in, chasing, in the very first hand.

We run it twice. I lose both. I get up and leave with the vision of nine vultures all squawking streams of laughter behind my back.

I feel shame, remorse and guilt. I have lost money that I cannot afford to lose. I broke a promise to my wife. I am an idiot – again.

Stephen Pfleiderer is a certified interventionist, addiction specialist and recovery coach. Stephen studied Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) under the wing of David D. Burns, the author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

It’s a book that has sold in excess of 5 million copies worldwide. Both Stephen and David have been guests on my Alcohol & Addiction Podcast.

I told Stephen the same tale that I narrated to you. I also told him that for as long as I can remember, when I lose a bet, cash game or poker tournament, I feel a compulsion to find a way to win that money back in the fastest possible time.

It’s not good enough for me to wait for tomorrow’s sure thing. I need instant gratification.

I wanted Stephen’s view on what I see to be a common problem amongst the recreational poker players I have played with over the years.

Stephen Pfleiderer

The 10 Cognitive Distortions

“There is a lot going on under the radar here,” says Pfleiderer. “What is going on happens very quickly and it’s a spiral where you go from 0-100 and think, ‘how the hell did I get here?’”

It does happen very quickly. It’s as if I don’t have time to assess the long-term effects of the decisions I am making in the moment. 

I feel like someone has hijacked my motor functions and is steering me to the ATM and the All-In button.

“You are playing a game and something doesn’t go your way,” says Pfleiderer. “You go into the game excited to go and armed with the fantasy of ‘this time I might win the big one and my problems will be solved.’

“Your thought process is similar to, ‘I can’t wait to get drunk tonight because it feels so good.’ It’s that anticipatory delight. You have set up an expectation to win and, when you don’t, you are naturally very angry, frustrated and disappointed.

“People play casino games and poker because they are excited about the potential to win. Suddenly, something happens and the game doesn’t go their way. The thoughts begin: ‘Why does this always happen to me? Why don’t I have a good start?’”

Rast Cannuli Notes
Write it down.

Write It Down

I have interviewed enough of poker’s elite to know that to become a professional poker player you have to learn to balance expectation.

On one hand, you need to be confident in your ability. On the other hand, you need to enter every situation with the understanding that you are more likely to lose.

What can I do to turn this knowledge into action? 

“Your negative thoughts are merely cognitive distortions,” says Pfleiderer. “We need to identify these distortions, and to do that we need to turn these damaging and limiting rhetorical statements into statements.

“The best way to do this is to write them down so we can begin to see if there is any truth to them in reality.”

NUGGET #1 – In your post-game review (and you should have a post-game review procedure if you are serious about the game) write down all of the negative thoughts you had during the game and turn them into statements. Next, identify the cognitive distortions and then create more positive thought statements.


I never get off to a good start I never win I never get any luck in this game

Next you can use David D. Burns’ checklist of cognitive distortions and identify which ones align with your thought statements. It’s a powerful lesson. Then change your negative statement into a more accurate and positive thought statement.


I never get off to a good start (Negative Statement)

Mike Matusow
Turn negative into positive.

Cognitive Distortions: All or Nothing Thinking, Over Generalization, Discounting the Positives, Fortune Telling, Magnification and Personalization; Blame.

Positive Statement

Sometimes I get off to a good start and sometimes I get off to a bad start. But I am more likely to get off to a good start if I work harder on my game, particularly my mental game, and do the necessary work to eliminate negative thought statements that are nothing but cognitive distortions

NUGGET #2 – Don’t wait for your post-match review to do this work. As soon as you notice a trigger that you are about to lose control, take a break from the game, find a calm spot, and do the work. You can use your Notes function on your mobile phone or take a pen and notepad with you.

“If you are in the midst of the maelstrom, and you don’t push the pause button, you are likely to end up in a spiral of descent and chaos,” says Pfleiderer. “’I won’t be OK until I have that money’ is a powerful force. To interrupt the sequence we are writing down the thoughts we have in our mind.”

False Expectations

“You need to develop a more realistic approach to the game and this allows you to detach from the outcome,” says Pfleiderer.

“Your statement: ‘I need to win,’ is driving the whole system. If I have a need that needs to be met by this game I am in a vulnerable position. If I can detach from the outcome, the tension goes away.”

How do I do this?

“It’s a skill that can be practiced and cultivated through preparing oneself before entering a situation like this,” he says. “The term equanimity: not being attached to things if they go well or poorly.

Daniel Negreanu IMG 4125
Master of good feelings.

“Being balanced and centred when you have gain and loss. Being able to sit and allow the positive to come and the negative to come and not allow it to push and pull you in either direction. Those negative and positive thoughts are the masters in that very grounded and confident space.”

And then I see it. I am not accepting the reality of the situation. To pinch a phrase from James Altucher, ‘I am time travelling.’  I am in La La Land where the world doesn’t contain negative outcomes and only positive ones.

If this was my reality then nobody would ever become a long-term winner in poker. Daniel Negreanu, for example, has won over $33m playing live tournaments because he suffers when he loses but allows that suffering to pass through. He also doesn’t get carried away with the feelings of winning.

“There are some people in poker who are not upset by these thoughts,” says Pfleiderer,  and others get completely unravelled. The exciting thing is once we start seeing our reactions that’s where the power of change comes.

“Now the same thing that was bothersome is no longer as bothersome.”

I know when I help people recover from alcohol addiction that they have to learn to suffer. Interesting that I am not using that same knowledge and understanding in my game.

NUGGET #3 – Create your own affirmation recording or listen to recordings from the likes of Poker Mind Coach Elliot Roe before you play and at times when you are feeling triggered. Change those expectations.

Stick With the Right Conversation

I listened to a short Daniel Negreanu VLOG the other day. He was talking about David Sklansky and his myopic views on the mental game of poker.

Negreanu said that improving the mental game is a lot to do with study of the game. If you want to improve all aspects of your game, including your mindset, you have to be committed to sticking with the right conversation.

Phil Kessel Daniel Negreanu
Stick to the right conversations.

You need to be talking to the smartest minds in both the technical and mental side of the game. Watch the best coaching videos, read the best poker books, and listen to the best podcasts.

This is what I mean by sticking with the right conversation. It’s a choice.

“These are patterns and habits and if we have been reacting to certain things for a while it takes time to change,” says Pfleiderer.

“The desire when you are upset to write thoughts down and look at them – you don’t want to do that. You want to be miserable and angry.

“But when you are not activated and the flight or fight thing comes on, if you do the work ahead of time, practice with this, working with your negative statements when you are in a calm space is a powerful exercise so when you are in that you have more awareness and you can talk back to it easier.”

It’s the Only Way to Win

To become successful in poker you have to learn to bypass the desire for instant gratification and focus on long-term gain.

It’s the only way to win in this beautiful game. With that understanding comes patience. Without patience, there is no poker.

A lesson that we should learn to adopt not just on the felt but in our lives.

Learn more about Stephen Pfleiderer and his work here.



A Noob's Guide to 8-Game: Learn 8 Poker Games, Crush Them

Do you want to play against bad poker players who don’t even know the rules of the game(s) they’re playing?

It’s time to give 8-Game a try.

During the golden days of online poker you could earn a lot of money playing Texas Hold’em just by knowing the rules, hand rankings and some very rudimentary strategy. Very rudimentary.

Today, things are different. More players are solid and make fewer mistakes in Hold’em. Even in Pot-Limit Omaha you’re lucky to find a really bad player.

But it is still possible to find poker games (and plenty of them) where you don’t have to sit with a HUD, battle math geniuses or analyze your hands for hours. And you can still have a ton of fun and earn a bit of money.

What is 8-Game?

As the name suggests, in 8-Game you play 8 different poker variations.

WSOP Chips4
Stack ‘em.

If you can understand the rules and the basic strategy for all of them, you’re already better than most of your opponents at the lower stakes.

Especially during tournament series like the PokerStars Micro Millions, you’ll find a lot of really soft players just poking around in 8-Game for fun.

You might come up against some strong players but remember  — they aren’t using tracking software to the same extent as in Hold’em or Omaha.

This makes 8-Game a more fun and fair game, too. As an additional plus you’ll also learn to master more variations of poker, which will develop you as a poker player, too.

What’s not to like?

Where Can I Play 8-Game Online?

Currently PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker are the only online poker sites that offer 8-Game. 

Tournament fields are, of course, not as big as they are in Hold’em and Omaha but are still reasonably big compared to other smaller poker games – probably because 8-Game is really fun with a lot of action.

8-Game is a mixed game with 6 players at the table. The game changes according to a fixed rotation of:

Limit 2-7 Triple Draw Limit Hold’em Limit Omaha Hi-Lo Limit Razz Limit Seven Card Stud Limit Stud Hi-Lo No-Limit Hold’em Pot-Limit Omaha

When you play online tournaments the game changes after a certain time interval; in live tournaments the game usually changes after an orbit.

Basic 8-Game Strategy for Beginners

It’s pretty simple: Learn the rules and the basic strategy for all eight poker games. If you do, you’re already better than most of your opponents.

At the lower stakes you’ll find many opponents who are good at one or two games but really suck at the other games.

They overplay bad hands a lot, or it may be something as simple as not keeping track of the rules — e.g. an ace is a low card in Razz but not in 2-7 Triple Draw.


If you’re fairly new to some of these games they will require your full focus so we recommend not playing too many tables at the same time. Instead, allow yourself to play more hands.

Identify Weak Players in Weak Games

It’s generally a good idea to play tight and only play your strong holdings (as in most other games).

However, if you’ve identified a player with a weakness in one game, you can call with weaker hands and hope to hit big later in the hand.

This is especially the case in games like Stud, Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw where you have a good indication of your opponent’s holding.

Most of the games are Limit games, which makes it difficult to bluff. You’ll be called down in many situations when trying out a three-barrel bluff in e.g. 2-7 Triple Draw.

Go ahead and bet with your strong hands (but maybe not in No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha as you will scare away your opponents) as your opponents will very often call with weaker holdings.

In games like Stud and Razz where you can see your opponent’s door cards, it’s generally good to bet when you have better door cards.

This also means that your opponents rarely bluff. If you’re in a hand where you can see that you’re unlikely to end up with something big, it’s better to fold than see another card.

Play Solid in NLHE, PLO

It’s important to be a good player in all the games but it’s crucial that you are a solid player in No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha.

These are the games where most chips exchange hands because of the larger bets and you can lose everything with a few bad calls. Again, play tight and wait for the strong hands in Hold’em and PLO.

In short: Tight is right in 8-Game and you should focus on identifying your strong hands and play them right to get the most out of them. Fold your week hands and be careful with bluffing.

Next we will go through the rules and the basic strategy for all 8 games. We assume that you know Hold’em and a bit of PLO already so we mainly focus on the differences between these games.

Limit 2-7 Triple Draw Basic Rules

All players get five cards and your goal is to get the lowest poker hand possible without hitting a straight or a flush. Also a pair counts against you. The best low hand possible is 7-5-4-3-2 off-suit (aces are high cards in 2-7).

You are unlikely to get a good hand at first but you can exchange as many cards as you like during the three draw rounds. Read the full rules here.


Basic Strategy

Your starting hand is very important here. A good rule of thumb in 2-7 Triple Draw is to fold your hand if you do not have three unpaired cards with a value lower than 9.

You can call on the first street, though, if you have a 2 together with a card of the value 3 to 7.

High cards over 8 should be exchanged. To have a good chance of winning after showdown you should try to have a hand with a 9 as the highest card.

You should always bet if you have a good hand and only need one card to get a really strong hand. If your opponent calls and exchanges two cards, you’re likely to be still ahead and you can bet again.

If your opponent stands pat (doesn’t exchange any cards), or starts to raise, you should be careful. In this case you need a strong hand with a 7 as the highest card to proceed.

It actually happens quite often that a player has a 7-high hand.

Position is also crucial in 2-7. If you’re out of position you should have a very good hand to call your opponent’s bets. See also our beginners’ guide to 2-7 Triple Draw.

Limit Hold’em

Basic Rules

You likely know the rules for Texas Hold’em already, otherwise you can read them here.

Limit Hold’em is less action packed compared to No-Limit as you can only bet a certain amount of chips at a time. This means players will see more flops.

See more about the betting rules in Limit games here.

Basic Strategy

Compared to No-Limit you can play more draw hands in Limit Hold’em when you’re out of position. Your opponents can’t make big bets, which gives you the right pot odds to call.

However, you should avoid playing hands with little potential such as two low cards without draws. There will often be more opponents seeing the flop compared to No-Limit so you are unlikely to be ahead unless you hit something big on the flop.

Generally you can play the same kind of starting hands as in No-Limit but make sure to make a few adjustments.

See also our strategy section on Limit Hold’em.


Limit Omaha Hi-Lo Basic Rules

Game play in Omaha Hi-Lo is like in normal Omaha but the main difference is the pot is split into two and given to the best high hand and the best low hand.

To get the best low hand, all five cards have to be of the value 8 or lower (no pairs). This is why the game is also called Omaha 8-or-Better.

An ace is counted as a low card as well as a high card. You can have a flush or a straight in your low hand so the best possible low hand is 5-4-3-2-A (suits have no importance here).

If nobody has a qualified low hand (which happens fairly often) the pot goes to the player with the best high hand. Read the rules here.

Basic Strategy

A good rule of thumb for Omaha Hi-Lo is to go for the high hand but have a draw for the low hand. Since it happens frequently that no player has a qualified low hand, you can in many cases scoop the pot with the best high hand.

A hand with one or two aces is always a good starting hand as it increases your chances to win both the high and the low hand. The best possible low hand – 5-4-3-2-A – can sometimes also end up being the best high hand as a straight.

As in PLO it’s always good to have a double-suited starting hand, preferably also well connected. If you have four of the same suit, be careful proceeding. See also our beginners guide to Omaha Hi-Lo.

Limit Razz

Basic Rules

Game play in Razz is almost identical to Seven-Card Stud, only it’s a Lowball game where your goal is to get the best low hand. Flushes and straights don’t count and an ace is a low card so the best possible hand in Razz is 5-4-3-2-A.

As opposed to the Hi-Lo games you don’t need to have a qualified hand to win the pot. This means that you can be lucky to win the pot with a face card or a pair at showdown. Read the full Razz rules here.


Basic Strategy

Basic strategy in Razz is quite similar to Seven-Card Stud. You should be disciplined and wait for your good hands instead of calling with hands with little potential.

Also keep an eye on the “dead cards” — the door cards your opponents fold along the way.

The value of your down cards is quite important for the strength of your hand. If you have an ace and another low card as your down cards you have a very strong hand which you should proceed with for sure.

If your door card is an ace, it can be a good idea to bet as your opponents will usually respect this and might fold quickly.

If you’ve decided to proceed with a medium hand, on third street you need to make an important decision. Here the big bet is coming into the picture and if your opponent has hit something big it can end up costing you a lot of chips.

See more tips for your Razz strategy here.

Limit Seven-Card Stud Basic Rules

After Razz it’s time for the “real” Stud game and back to the normal hand rankings. Straights and flushes are also in play here as opposed to Razz.

You start out with two down cards and one open card, the door card. The following three cards are also dealt open while the final seventh card is dealt face down. Read the full rules here.

Basic Strategy

In Stud as well as Razz you need to be disciplined and keep an eye on your opponents’ door cards. If you have a flush draw but can see that your opponents have several of the cards in your suit, you’re less likely to hit it.

Also here your two down cards are important for your starting hand. If you for example have a high pair as your door card you can end up with a very strong, well-hidden hand if it improves.

When your opponents just call your bet it’s very likely that they have a drawing hand. If you can see that they end up having four cards to a flush or a straight and start betting should you be very careful with calling unless you have a better hand.

A high pair is sometimes enough to win a hand but again keep an eye on what door cards your opponent has. If he has a flush or a straight draw and raises on seventh street it’s very likely your pair is not good enough.

See our strategy section on Seven-Card Stud here.


Limit Stud Hi-Lo Basic Rules

We move on with the Stud games, this time for the Hi-Lo version which is also called Stud8. The pot can be split up into two where the best high hand gets one half while the best low hand will get the other half if it is qualified.

As in Omaha Hi-Lo a hand is qualified if it has five cards with the value 8 or lower with an ace being a low card. A pair counts against you while straights and flushes don’t.

If no player has a qualifying low hand will the entire pot be given to the best high hand. Read the rules for for Limit Stud Hi-Lo here.

Basic Strategy

Stud Hi-Lo is a game where you need a lot of focus as there are many things to keep an eye on. Not only do you have to understand your own hand’s potential, you also need to estimate if your opponent has a good high or low hand.

Luckily it’s fairly easy to see if your opponent is going for the high or the low hand. Just look at the door cards and you have a pretty good idea.

If you have a good low hand and your opponent looks to have a good high hand, you’ll often end up splitting the pot.

A good tip in Stud Hi-Lo is to go for the low hand while having a draw to a strong high hand. This is because it’s easier to see if you have the best low hand compared to the best high hand.

The opposite is the case for Omaha Hi-Lo where you should try to go for the high hand while having a draw to the low hand.

The strategies for the two games are however similar regarding the importance of having an ace in your hand. The best possible low hand is also 5-4-3-2-A which can also end up being the best high hand. See more strategy tips for Stud Hi-Lo here.

Chips 2017 WSOP 5296

No-Limit Texas Hold’em Basic Rules

In case you’ve been living on the moon for the past 15 years, read the rules for No-Limit Texas Hold’em here.

Basic Strategy

In 8-Game, No-Limit Hold’em is usually the game where most players go broke. Especially the smaller stacks, who will wait for the chance to go all-in in search of a quick double-up as the other games do not give the same opportunities.

For this reason it’s a good idea to play a bit tight and keep an eye on short stacks going all-in. Don’t forget it’s a six-max game and they aren’t always at the top of their range to try to get an all-in through.

At the same time, they’re unlikely to go all-in with two random cards.

If you’re a very strong Hold’em player you can use an aggressive strategy to steal blinds and play your opponent pre-flop. It’s rare for your opponent to have a big hand in six-max.

Want to learn more Texas Hold’em strategy? See our large strategy section here.

Pot-Limit Omaha Basic Rules

The most important difference between Texas Hold’em and Omaha is that you get four hole cards instead of two. When you make your final poker hand you can only used two of your cards– in fact, you have to use two of them.

Another difference is the Pot-Limit betting structure where you can only bet the same size as the pot. Since there are many draw opportunities in PLO you’ll see quite a few bets and raises during a hand.

If you don’t know the rules for Omaha yet, you can learn them here.

Basic Strategy

As in No-Limit Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha is a game where you can easily go all-in and many players take this opportunity in 8-Game.

The risk is higher compared to Hold’em as a good starting hand wins less often in Omaha than in Hold’em. For this reason it’s generally better to see a flop before putting everything on the line.

In Pot-Limit Omaha it’s a good idea to play a hand which is already good but has the potential to become even better. A good example is a hand with a pair but also with a flush and/or a straight draw, eg A♦ K♦ A♠ Q♠.

You won’t always win with these kind of hands in Omaha but they can be very strong if you hit the right cards on the board.

Don’t forget that you need a much bigger hand at showdown than in Hold’em. Ace-high is rarely enough to win a pot; neither is a low pair. So try to go for a straight or flush to increase your chances of winning.

We have a large strategy section on PLO, too. Read through it here.



When to Fire a Second Barrel on the Turn: A Simple Guide

Give up or fire?

Have you ever raised with a great hand but then hit absolutely nothing on the flop?

If you’ve played poker, you certainly have. That’s what happens most of the time.

So what do you do? What do you do with a raise in the pot and a hand that suddenly doesn’t look so great anymore?

Most players just bet the flop, pretending to have at least top pair — because that’s what pre-flop raisers do.

You hope your opponents have nothing themselves and just hand you the pot. That’s basic poker strategy.

But what happens when you’re called on the flop, don’t improve on the turn and still have nothing? Is it time to give up or is it time to fire a second barrel?

How far can you go with a bluff? When is it time to cut your losses and check-fold your way out? Here’s a loose and easy-to-follow guide to

When to fire a second barrel on the turn When to shut down and How to proceed with bluffs when you don’t improve The Perfect Double Barrel Situation

Let’s run through an example. Say you’re playing a No-Limit Hold’em game with $1/$2 blinds, you’re in late position and you’re dealt    


All players in front of you fold and you raise to $6. Only the big blind calls and the flop comes      

Your opponent checks and you bet $10. After you opponent calls the turn comes  

Your opponent checks once more. There’s $33 in the middle, the two of you have roughly $200 behind and you’re left with a difficult decision.

You still only have ace high but you’ve picked up a gutshot straight draw on the turn. Should you fire again or should you see a free river, hoping to improve your hand?

It turns out your decision in this case is not that difficult after all. A second barrel is generally the best move and we’ll explain why. 

Mediocre Hand Likely

The range your opponent is representing mostly consists of smaller pocket pairs and hands like J♠ T♠. So far he called twice and checked twice, which makes a mediocre hand with some showdown value the most likely holding.

All those hands are beating your ace high right now but it’s unlikely your opponent will pay off a big bet if you hit your miracle straight on the river.

None of those hands can stand a lot of heat — especially since the king on the turn could very well have improved your hand to top pair.

If you bet something like $20 on the turn it will be very difficult for your opponent to call with a hand like pocket nines or even a weak ten. You’re legitimately representing a strong hand and a bet on the turn is threatening an even larger bet on the river.

It’s likely your opponent will fold if he only has a mediocre hand and you’ll scoop a nice pot with your second barrel.

Please note: it’s likely, not certain, your opponent will fold. It’s entirely possible that your opponent is trapping you with a set and plans to check-raise the turn.


But this scenario is far less likely than the weak-pair-scenario and your game plan in case of a check-raise is simple: you fold, since you don’t have the odds to chase your gutshot draw against big raises.

Mathematically, a $20 bluff on the turn only has to work 38% of the time to be profitable. And even if your opponent gets stubborn and calls again, you still have some outs to improve on the river.

When To Fire The Second Barrel

Not all situations are equal in poker and sometimes second barrels are not advisable. Next we’ll list the most important factors to help you to decide whether you should fire a second time or not.

For the next part always assume you’re the pre-flop raiser, you’ve then bet on the flop and your hand is practically worthless (no pair, no showdown value, no strong draws).

1. When Heads-Up On The Turn

This one is practically mandatory. Unless you only have one opponent left on the turn, don’t consider firing a second bullet.

With a call and one or more overcalls on the flop, your opponents have already demonstrated too much strength for you to continue bluffing. Just let it go and give up.

2. When the Turn Should Improve Your Range

While not mandatory for a profitable second barrel, it’s always good if the turn card helps your general range.

As the preflop raiser your opponents usually expect you to have big cards. So any big card on the turn could easily have improved your holding.

Aces and kings on the turn are ideal candidates for second barrels but jacks or queens are also decent cards to bluff if they’re an overcard to the flop.

Good or bad for opponent’s range?

3. When the Turn Should Be Bad For Your Opponent’s Range

For a second barrel to work, the turn card should be bad for your opponent’s range. You want your opponent to not feel confident investing more money into the pot.

That’s why overcards to the board are perfect candidates for second barrels. Whatever pair your opponent held on the flop just got demoted to a worse pair. Top pair became second pair, second pair third pair and so on.

Possible and plausible straight and flush opportunities also make good candidates for second barrels.

Sure, there’s always the chance your opponent was just drawing to that flush you’re now representing. But much more often than not your opponent will be sitting there with some weak pair, looking at a threatening board and will chicken out to well timed aggression.

4. When Your Opponents are Loose/Passive

You don’t want to fire big bluffs against the tightest player at the table. If those guys call preflop and on the flop, they’re pretty likely to go all the way.

Huge bluffs against tight players are, more often than not, very costly.

For your second barrel you ideally want an opponent who is somewhat loose preflop and who plays passively. Those players have very wide ranges and plenty of hands in their range cannot sustain a lot of aggression.

That’s the kind of player you want to be picking on. By firing second barrels you punish them for calling too much and often succeed because they have to give up most of their range against strong aggression.

But proceed with caution against pure calling stations (players that routinely call others down with weak one-pair holdings). While it’s still possible to bluff those players, your bluffs need to be well timed, extra believable and you’ll probably need three substantial barrels.

In general it’s much more profitable to just wait for a decent hand and let them pay you off.

In position or out?

Second Barrels – In Or Out Of Position?

Should you be more inclined to fire a second barrel when you’re in position and your opponent has already checked to you or should you rather fire when you’re out of position and first to act?

Having position on your opponent has advantages and disadvantages. Your opponent has to act first and has no initiative. That makes it much more likely for him to fold marginal hands.

But this advantage is also disadvantageous. Your opponent already called a bet out of position on the flop, narrowing his range quite a bit, and it’s unlikely your opponent has a very weak draw or a complete airball.

Most opponents in position nowadays routinely call bets on the flop with gutshots, a single overcard or just some back-door draws.

What they do is called “floating” – they’re calling the flop with the intention to bet the turn when checked to and steal the pot from a timid pre-flop raiser.

The range of a floater is incredibly wide and that’s what makes it very profitable to fire second barrels against those players.

If you see someone routinely call bets on the flop and fire on the turn if checked to, you should definitely double barrel out of position and you can expect to take the pot down most of the time.

The Easy Rule For Second Barrels

When asked under which circumstances second barrels are profitable, Dusty Schmidt, a successful online grinder and book author under the moniker “Leatherass,” had a simple rule of thumb:

“Always double barrel!”

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Short answer: always

This rule of thumb should of course not be taken literally in every scenario but it underlines the character of modern poker — especially online poker.

More often than not players call the flop almost regardless of their holdings, waiting to see what the turn or river brings to try to sneak in a bluff. Double barreling ‘light’ exploits this loose-aggressive approach.

More Double Barrel Examples

Some more examples for possible double barrel situations. You own hand doesn’t matter – just assume it’s absolutely worthless.

Flush on the turn: Your raise before the flop and your opponent calls a bet on a 9♠ 7♠ 2♣ flop. The turn brings the J♠. That’s an awesome card for a second barrel.

The jack is an overcard and completes possible flush and straight draws. What’s your opponent going to do with a hand like 8♣ 8♦? Right, he’s going to fold.

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What’s your image?

Sure, sometimes he just made a flush and is going to raise you, but most of the time he’s holding some weak pair and will let go of it if pressured. Remember – your bluff only needs to work 40% of the time (in case you’re betting two-thirds of the pot) to be profitable.

Low-card flop: Your opponent is in the big blind, calls your preflop raise and you continuation bet on a 8♣ 4♠ 3♠ flop. The turn brings the T♦.

While the ten is an overcard to the flop, it’s not a very scary one. Expect your opponent to keep on calling if you double barrel.

This can nevertheless be a profitable situation to keep firing. But you need to be willing to pull the trigger a third time if the river brings a scary looking card.

If your opponent calls you on the turn you should strongly consider firing any overcard and any spade on the river to complete your triple barrel bluff.

Pairing the top card: This is an example where a double barrel is not advised. Your opponent calls a continuation bet on a K♣ 7♦ 2♠ flop in position and the turn brings the K♦.

There are almost no hands that call the flop and give up on this turn. The second king makes it much harder for you to represent a hand with a king and your opponent will call you with any pair.

Here you should strongly consider just checking and giving up.

Your Image While Double Barreling

So far we’ve mostly talked about board textures and your opponents when considering second barreling. But one third thing is at least as important as those two.

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Don’t go overboard with aggression.

It’s your image at the table and how your opponents perceive the way you play. 

If you’re firing shots left and right, play every other hand, or were recently caught bluffing in a big pot, your credibility is out the window.

No matter the board structure or the timidness of your opponents – your attempts to successfully fire second or third barrels will prove much more difficult.

That’s why it is important to not go overboard with aggression and to time your bluffs. You don’t need to win every pot. And giving up in marginal situations will increase your credibility in other hands.

It’s also important to fire with decent hands often enough. If you never double barrel with top pair, good kicker, your opponents will pick up on that and they will give you much less credit.

It’s vital that your opponents always give you credit for having a decent hand, otherwise your attempts to bluff will not work.

If, on the other hand, you just had a dry spell of cards and no decent bluff opportunities, your opponents might perceive you as much more timid than you actually are.

In this situation you’re much more likely to succeed with your bluffs and you should be much more inclined to do it since your opponents won’t assume you’re capable of running elaborated double or even triple barrel bluffs.

One last word: If you’re playing against super weak players, like drunks in a casino or the lowest online limits, you should generally refrain from running big bluffs.

Your opponents really just want to go to showdown and don’t care that their calls are mathematically wrong. Against those players, you don’t double barrel with air.

You just make a decent hand, follow through with three value bets, collect the pot, tell them they’ll certainly be more lucky in the next hand and enjoy the free money!



Daniel Negreanu's Strategy Tips for Modern Tournament Poker

If you entered the poker world – particular the tournament poker world – 10 years ago, you know there were a few pretty simple strategies employed by most tournament players.

That’s not the case anymore.

Tournament poker strategy has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past decade and an “old-school” style will no longer cut it at the tournament tables.

In modern tournament poker playing styles, bet-sizing and the general approach to specific situations have all changed drastically.

If you’ve recently jumped back in to tournament poker or find yourself a bit lost with strategy in tournament poker in 2017, we’ve got some tips for you from poker’s all-time tournament money winner.

That player? No less than PokerStars pro and all-time poker icon Daniel Negreanu.

How to Play the Early Stages of an MTT

Daniel Negreanu: In the early stages of many tournaments there is no ante, which forces you to play very conservative. I’m a big believer in the saying that you can’t win a tournament in the early stages but you can lose it.

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Whole new ball game now.

If you can identify a player as weak, particularly post-flop, you want to play more hands against that player and exploit that by trying to take pots from them on the flop.

While it’s true that you have a lot of big blinds so you can theoretically afford to limp a lot, I don’t think you see good players do that.

There isn’t a lot of limping because essentially, if you limp, you give the small blind and the big blind the chance to realize their full equity when they get to see a flop with 9-6 off-suit or 9-2 off-suit.

Although raise-sizes are so small today that they’re almost like a limp, you eliminate these hands and that’s a fundamentally better way to play.

But as a general rule you should not be concerned about increasing your stack by 20-30% in the first couple of levels but rather try to keep what you have.

Scenario 1: You get involved in a big pot in the early stages of a tournament. You win that pot and find yourself in the top 20 of the leaderboard. Do you proceed cautiously or do you now try to constantly put pressure on the other players?

Daniel Negreanu: In the early stages of an MTT you don’t have a lot of ICM pressure. There’s no bubble to get across, there are almost no players who have really short stacks so, realistically, the big-pot win early on doesn’t really change the way you should play.

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“The difference between 200 and 400 big blinds is mostly irrelevant”

If you play 200 big blinds in the beginning of a tournament and somehow you go up to 350 or 400 big blinds, that doesn’t really matter.

Where it matters is when you have several players at your table that are down to 30 big blinds or less in a later stage. Then you can start bullying them around because every decision for them is now about money.

The difference between 200 and 400 big blinds is mostly irrelevant outside the fact that you can lose an all-in and still survive.

Scenario 2: You get involved in a big pot in the early stages of a tournament. You lose that pot and find yourself in the bottom of the leaderboard with 20 to 25 big blinds.

Daniel Negreanu: In this scenario you’ve just lost the ability to play deep-stack poker. So now you have to adapt and switch to Plan B, which is a fundamentally more conservative style of play.

You’re now looking for spots to double up, contrary to a 200 big blind stack which you won’t try to get in to double up.

How to Play the Bubble Phase of an MTT

For years the bubble phase of a tournament – meaning the approach of the money spots – was the phase where you tried to exploit the smaller stacks as viciously as possible by permanently attacking them. Is this approach still valid?

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Daniel Negreanu: Many players over-emphasize the bubble phase. It’s not really that big of a deal unless you’re really, really short.

If you are very short you have to estimate how much longer you can wait, how many chips you can give up by folding good hands to get into the money and win the min cash. Your strategy depends entirely on your stack size.

If you do have a big stack then, yes, you should still try to take advantage of that situation. But having said that I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to play like a mad person in that situation because you don’t want to jeopardize your stack either by playing foolishly.

How Do You Size Your Bets?

Daniel Negreanu: Bet-sizing is extremely important and has changed drastically since I started playing. 

People came out raising 3 times or 4 times the big blind, minimum. Pot-sized bets on the flop were the rule and not the exception.

This is why I developed the strategy known as “small-ball poker.” It means that you size your bets much smaller to give yourself the chance to play many more hands.

If you look at High Roller tournaments and how they’ve developed in the last 18-24 months, you see a lot of small pre-flop raises and small bets on the flop.

But then on the turns and rivers we see 2x or 3x the pot bets — huge over-bets to put as much pressure as possible on the other players. And this is poker on the highest levels so this shows you the way to go.

This is tournament poker in 2017! (Photo: Lina Olofsson)

More generally speaking, your bet-size depends on the flop texture, the size of your stack in relation to the pot and the range you put your opponent on.

The over-bet is your weapon in polarized situations when you either have a very strong hand or nothing. That’s when you bet two times the pot to make it difficult for your opponent.

Small ball poker is now essentially the fabric that every good poker player uses. But this refers mainly to pre-flop and flop play. Flop bets today tend to be a quarter to a third of the pot whereas in the old days it used to be three quarters to full pot.

Turns and rivers are now where the game gets interesting. That’s where there’s now a lot of room to adapt and exploit – bet-sizing on turn and river. 

You can see that we see less and less half-pot bets. It’s either small bets or often very big bets.

How to Play the Late Stages of an MTT

Scenario 3: You’re in the top third of the leaderboard. You get moved to a new table. You raise with pocket kings from middle position and get a call from a player in the blinds who has you slightly covered. On the flop the situation is as follows.

Your hand:     Flop:      

Your opponent checks, you bet small and get raised. What do you do?

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Daniel Negreanu: In this situation you should usually call, unless you think they have a strong hand they want to go with. But, as there’s a chance they might be bluffing, I want to give them the chance to bluff again.

Pushing all-in would not be very smart even though you have the best hand at the moment. Yes, you’ll occasionally get value from drawing hands. But by calling you’ll accomplish one of two things.

If the draw doesn’t come in you can pick off any bluff and call any bet. If the draws come in you can minimize your loss. Say the T♠ comes on the turn, you can play more cautiously. With your hand you block the king so your opponent will either have a lower set or a flush if he check-raises the flop and bets turn and river.

You might even fold your three kings. Also at this stage you have to think about what you would do with your entire range.

If you call the check-raise with just a king or a nine or even a gutshot, you have to have a set of kings in your calling range, too. If you don’t, you become too easy to exploit.

Your play in that situation changes if you don’t have position. Out of position you would often re-raise on the flop because if you don’t your opponent is likely to check back the turn if he misses.

And that would mean you miss out on a lot of value.



Krzysztof Chmielowski Gets Opponent to Fold Same Hand

888poker Qualifier from Poland Krzysztof Chmielowski 4-bet jammed Ace Queen into his opponent and the live stream later revealed the other player also had Ace Queen. Chmielowski analyzes the hand before he started heads up play at the 888poker Live in Bucharest.

You can watch the full stream here: https://youtu.be/ubXNkIN8sQk

And find all the coverage here: https://www.pokernews.com/tours/888live/2018-888poker-live-bucharest/main-event/

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888poker Live in Bucharest Champion is Andrei Racolta

Romanian poker player Andrei Racolta outlasted 469 players to take down the trophy, the money, and a package the Crazy Eights Tournament in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker this summer! Racolta shares his tough spots at the Final Table and reveals the who tournament was very relaxed and friendly. To see the Live Stream Click here: https://youtu.be/ubXNkIN8sQk and you can find the full live blog here: https://www.pokernews.com/tours/888live/2018-888poker-live-bucharest/main-event/chips.htm

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Back to Back 888poker Live Qualifier Sinisa Radovanovic

Sinisa Radovanovic qualified for 888poker Live in London just a few weeks ago and then managed to qualify for 888poker Live in Bucharest! Now he is at the Final Table and living the dream. He definitely has the best shirt at the Final Table so Sarah Herring sets out to discover more about this Serbian poker player. You can watch the Live Stream Here: https://youtu.be/ubXNkIN8sQk

And follow the coverage Live blogged here: https://www.pokernews.com/tours/888live/2018-888poker-live-bucharest/main-event/chips.htm

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The Amazing Poker Quiz with Natalie Hof about Natalie Hof

Sarah Herring sits down with Natalie Hof for another edition of The Amazing Poker Quiz where Sarah asks Natalie questions about her own profile and poker results. Although Natalie admittedly s herself every day, the results might not be what she expected. You have to watch to find out. And if you want to follow Natalie you can find her here:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCp2bd4lLpfRTAv8e4NX4yXQ
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nataliehof/?hl=en
: https://.com/hofnatalie?lang=en

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Hand Analysis: Catalin Pop Extracts Value on 3 Streets

Catalin Pop has already won two 888poker trophy’s. He won the Main event in Rozvadov. Check out that winner interview here:

and he also won the High Roller in Barcelona. You can find more on that here: https://www.pokernews.com/news/2017/05/catalin-pop-wins-888live-barcelona-2200-high-roller-27997.htm.

And now he is here with just two tables left at the 888poker Live in Bucharest. That Live Stream is available here: https://youtu.be/DzT0dTNpqcg

He played a hand where he got pretty solid value and he explains he thought process in the hand.

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Off the Felt: Top 8 Social Media Posts This Week

Taking a hint from a regular Article: Off the felt that you can find here: https://www.pokernews.com/news/social/ Sarah Herring explores the Best 8 Social Media posts from the last week. Why 8? Well of course because she is currently covering the 888poker Live in Bucharest. She finds a swimsuit pic of Ana Marquez, some epic biceps on Liv Boeree, a new baby for Dani Sterm, Chance Kornuth losing his baby…the furry kind, Bryan Devonshire letting it all hang out and more. To see the article which inspired her Number one post click here: https://www.pokernews.com/news/2018/03/mike-del-vecchio-huge-year-full-circle-rolling-thunder-30126.htm

Follow Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pokernewsdotcom/?hl=en

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