What Are We Thinking About on the Flop?

It’s something most of us do hundreds, even thousands of times a day: decide how we want to continue with a hand. The information in a given hand is massively clarified from where it stood pre-flop. It’s a huge turning point and one of the most important decision points in tournament poker. Do we c-bet or not? If so, what size? What’s the board like and what can the turn and river hold for us?

This article is not meant to be an exhaustive guide on things to consider, but it will list a lot of the factors in play. Most of you already know these things, but I think it helps to clarify, even if just to refresh it in our mind.

We need to start thinking about how the flop came to be! Pre-flop is the baseline for how we are going to proceed. We need to note our and our opponent’s action pre-flop and their associated sizing.

One of the most overlooked pieces of information on later streets is what position our opponent raised from pre-flop. I used to always screw that up, putting my opponent on enough straight draws only to realize later that they just don’t have 6-5 suited after raising from under the gun.

Once we get to the flop, we gather the information we need. We automatically think about our actual hand in relation to all of the other hands in its absolute value. How can our hand improve? How can the board get worse for our hand? What is the pot and what position are we in at the table? How many chips do we have? What was the action pre-flop? Level 1 gathering of our hand info.

Next, we have to think about our opponent’s information. This is Level 2 and where poker begins to be fun. What is their stack and what is their range of hands considering their play before the flop? What is their position and what are they like as a player?

After we have the necessary information about our decision, we have to compute that information into a decision. This is where the “feel” player’s expertise ends. Let’s say we are deciding whether to continuation bet. If we decide to bet, is our opponent likely to raise?

With what parts of their range of hands are they going to call and fold with? How does this benefit us as a player? Does sizing it differently affect our opponent’s potential decisions? If we check, how often do they bluff later on in the hand? Do we have a hand strong enough to slow play? Are they likely to improve on a lot of turn cards or is the board such that they won’t?

It’s important to note that these ways of thinking about flop decisions are all based around an exploitative strategy. That is, a strategy that tries to maximize our profit against our opponent’s leaks.

If we are facing someone really good, we may want to take a non-exploitative style. Continuation bet 45% with all of our hands all of the time (given a certain board texture). Check 20% of hands randomly and bet 80% of hands two-thirds of the pot size. This would be so that our opponent can’t catch on to what we are doing, but this style should only be saved for strong-thinking opponents. Even a lot of pros won’t adjust to your exploitative style on the fly.

If necessary, we can go deeper and think about what they think about us, maybe even what they think we think about them and how that affects their game plan. We can consider range versus range instead of hand versus range (a whole different article I’m not qualified to write). It’s a never-ending rabbit hole and it goes as deep as your opponent wants it to go.

Grove: “A DFS ‘Fantasy’ Game Doen’t Ensure Protection”

On Wednesday, Online Poker Report’s Chris Grove published a series of Tweets regarding the legality of daily fantasy sports (DFS). As we’ve written about before, Nevada gaming officials are digging into the legality of DFS and could potentially shut the industry down in the state or change the way it’s taxed and licensed. Other states could soon follow. Check out Chris on Twitter.

Nevada Gaming Control Board ChairmanAG Burnett announced his plans to take a look at DFS on Twitter, leading Grove to surmise, “My thinking is they wouldn’t announce the review if they knew they were going to conclude it was 100% not gambling.”

Fantasy sports are exempt from the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and, in recent years, DFS sites like FanDuel and DraftKings have flourished. At DFS sites, Americans can play for real money.

Grove pointed out, however, that it’s unclear whether DFS is permitted under other federal statutes besides the UIGEA: “The only federal law where fantasy enjoys a clear exemption is UIGEA – not Wire Act, IGBA, or Travel Act. And even under UIGEA, simply calling a DFS game ‘fantasy’ does not ensure protection. Lots of ambiguity given law predates DFS.”

When asked if Nevada, by itself, could “pretty much end DFS,” ESPN reporterDavid Purdum said on Twitter, “Maybe end it in the state, but not nationwide. Still so much gray area.” Nevada could declare DFS gambling and then tax the industry accordingly, for example, just as it does its land-based casinos and online poker rooms.

Grove also pointed out that the newly-launched DFS site from Yahoo lacks much of the security measures employed by regulated New Jersey online gambling sites:

“Yahoo DFS allows players to create bogus accounts [and] deposit with credit cards that don’t match account info… ID / age verification + financial / AML checks are basically non-existent at Yahoo DFS vs a regulated NJ poker site… Even vs the standard set by other DFS sites, Yahoo’s real money DFS product lacks basic ID / financial safeguards.”

Yahoo’s game selection and prize pools are considerably smaller than at DraftKings or FanDuel. However, Yahoo is a publicly traded company with millions of users and could, therefore, be a major force in the DFS industry.

Full Tilt Brings Huge Changes to Ring Games

On Tuesday, Full Tilt announced on its blog and via an email to its players that it has introduced radical changes to its ring games. The announcement boldly promised “big changes at Full Tilt to improve the playing experience by making the game more accessible and exciting.”

The most major change ring game players will witness at Full Tilt is that seating will no longer be determined by the player, but by the software itself. Players will be able to select the game and stakes they wish to play and automatically be seated at a table. If more than one table becomes short-handed, the software will merge them.

The blog points out that this is like a live card room and eliminates table selection that some players have used extensively to their advantage.

Another big change is that the site will no longer include heads-up ring game tables. Full Tilt is protecting its “weaker” players, who were subject to experienced players targeting them.

Another major change is the elimination of many high-stakes ring games, including Stud, Draw, and Mixed Game variants. While this will only directly affect a handful of players, many who enjoyed watching these games will have to now do so on another site.

Full Tilt Poker Room Manager Shyam Markus replied, “Like I said, it wasn’t a decision we reached lightly. All of the suggestions were discussed. Lots of ideas that weren’t suggested were discussed. We had a full specification all written up for the direction we wanted to take HU. The problem was that nothing changed the fact that the more new players play HU, the less likely they are to continue playing. If we wanted to be serious about trying to fix a broken poker economy, we had to find all of the biggest issues and either really solve them or remove them.”

He added, “For HU, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t actually solve the underlying issue, so we removed it. For sure it’s not going to be a super popular decision, and it’s absolutely possible we’ve made a mistake, but for now it’s the decision we feel has the best chance of helping turn around some of the biggest problems we face and return to growing the site.”

The PokerStars WCOOP is Back in September

The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) returns to PokerStars September 6 to 27 for its 14th edition. This year’s online poker festival promises to be the biggest in WCOOP history with 70 events and $45 million in guaranteed prizes. This represents a significant increase from the 66 events and $40 million in guaranteed prizes last year.

As usual, the highlight of the 2015 WCOOP is the$5,200 buy-in Main Event on September 27, which will offer a $10 million guaranteed prize pool. Germany’s Fedor “CrownUpGuy” Holz (became a household name after winning last year’s Main Event for $1.3 million.

This year’s WCOOP schedule also features a handful of new events. First off, there is a$51,000 buy-in Super High Roller tournament with a $1 million guaranteed prize pool, which should attract some of the biggest names in poker.

Additionally, there are three different three-day events for the first time ever. Also for the first time the schedule will incorporate 15 designated Championship events. These events will feature bigger buy-ins in many different types of games, including Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, and Draw.

Other than that, the schedule isn’t that far different than what players have become accustomed to in previous years, with many different formats being utilized including normal freezeouts, big antes, progressive super-knockouts, triple stack, zoom, shootouts, rebuys, re-entries, and more.

Unlike other online poker series, including the SCOOP, there are no low buy-in events, with events starting at a cost of $109 and quickly moving up from there. However, as can be expected, players can qualify in satellites running around-the-clock on PokerStars via multi-table tournaments, sit and gos, and step tournaments.

Also of note is that PokerStars is hosting a Player of the Year Leaderboard where the top 10 players will each win a share of $53,000 worth of prizes. The winner of the leaderboard will win $20,000 in cash, a 2016 Turbo Championship of Online Poker (TCOOP) Main Event ticket, and a Champion’s Trophy.

MIT Offers Free Class Online in Poker Strategy

The prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) has made a course available called Poker Theory and Analytics that can be taken by anyone for free on its website.

MIT has a long history of attempting to solve complex card games through mathematics and analysis. The school is infamous for producing the notorious MIT Blackjack Team, which won millions of dollars from casinos after perfecting a system of card counting. The group was immortalized in the popular box office film “21”, released in 2008, and is one of the inspirations for the course.

The class consists of two to three 1.5-hour lectures per week for four weeks that focus on basic strategy, analysis techniques and applications, pre-flop analysis, tournament play, poker economics, game theory, and decision-making.

One of the main goals for the course includes creating “an environment for the study of poker theory without the need for real money gambling.” To that end, MIT has partnered with PokerStars, which has created a special playmoney Home League for students. Pupils are required to cash in one real-money Daily Turbo, or play in at least 10, before passing the course.

Kevin Desmond believes that the class can be particularly helpful to students interested in trading stocks for a living. He says that his transition from poker player to trader was “seamless” due to his understanding of “taking calculated risks, participating in a competitive global market, and familiarity with making decisions under pressure.”

He hopes that by divorcing the real money gambling aspect of poker, students will better learn the concepts behind winning strategy. “One of the primary motivators of the course was that it is difficult for students to engage with poker conceptually without the connection to gambling… This course allows students to play poker competitively in a learning environment among those who have the same educational end goal,” he said.

Poker Theory and Analytics could help to further legitimize the game as a skill-based pursuit. While it’s clear to poker pros that better players will always triumph over less sophisticated ones over the long-term, many still believe the game to be nothing more than gambling. But the fact that a respected institution like MIT offers a class devoted to subject gives more clout to poker proponents and makes it easier to justify legalizing the game, live or online.

While there are plenty of free resources for poker players interested in improving their game, the MIT class could be a great starting point for learning basic concepts and progressing into advanced topics. The final facet of the course educates players about the “current poker environment” and how they might leverage their poker skills to one day making real money at the tables.

“I think there are a lot of ways for students to extract the benefits from poker without the need for risking money and one of the core pillars of the course is encouraging students to avoid gambling when possible,” he said.

Interview With Merson

Following the World Series of Poker this year,Greg Merson, who won the Main Event in 2012, decided to go smoke-free. He has overcome several obstacles in his life already, but can he successfully squash smoking? PocketFives caught up with the two-time bracelet winner to talk about his challenge in hopes that it might inspire other poker players to follow suit.

Tell us about going smoke-free. Why did you decide to do it?

Greg Merson: Going smoke-free is something I’ve been striving towards for a long time. I switched over to electronic about 18 months ago and lowered the nicotine levels down to about 20% of a cigarette before tossing all my stuff in the trash on July 15. I decided I wanted to quit before the Series, but didn’t think that would be a good idea, so I waited until after I got home to start the process.

PocketFives: How’s it going so far?

Greg Merson: My biggest struggle has been the triggers. Electronic is a great way to lower yourself off nicotine, but when you can smoke basically anywhere, it seemed like it was just in my mouth 24/7. I took five days off poker before getting back online with six tables of $1/$2 and $2/$4 and have now worked myself back to $10/$20 faster than expected. I thought I would have greater challenges with my mental game, but things have gone a lot smoother than I expected.

What are you doing to keep your mind off smoking?

Greg Merson: To keep my mind off smoking, I use the same strategy I use for my sobriety: I keep myself as busy as possible and try to never let my mind wander. Wandering is a very scary concept for any addict. I also remind myself daily how much better my life is going to be when I stay smoke-free.

We know you’ve overcome other obstacles in your life very successfully. How does this compare? Is there anything you’ve learned that carries over to stopping smoking?

Greg Merson: I’ve learned a lot about channeling certain willpower through my addiction to drugs and that definitely carries over to smoking. However, quitting electronic has been much more of a mental battle than a physical one. My most recent recovery was from opiates, where I had four days of horrendous physical withdrawal and then another three or four days of lingering issues. I haven’t dealt with a mental battle this hard since getting off cocaine at 19.

Thank you for sharing that. Let’s talk about poker now. You had two final tables at the WSOP this year. You finished fourth in a $5,000 NLHE event for $152,000 and then took fifth in the $10,000 PLO Championship for another $79,000. Evaluate your performance.

Greg Merson: I was happier with my second final table than my first. I didn’t play my A-game in the first one and it was the first final table of my career where I thought I made several mistakes. I also think I was gun-shy about taking some spots due to ICM and I hate thinking like that when I’m playing for bracelets.

I decided after that performance that I’m basically always going to be going for the win from now on unless it’s One Drop or Main Event-type payout jumps.

What do you think of the 2015 WSOP November Nine? Anyone you’re pulling for?

Greg Merson: I’m pulling for Tommy Canulli(pictured). We battle online a lot in New Jersey and I love his fearless style. I think people will enjoy watching him play and he would make a great champion because he wears his heart on his sleeve.

How would the presence of Daniel Negreanu in the November Nine have changed the excitement and interest in the November Nine, if at all? Were you pulling for him?

Greg Merson: Daniel would have been great for the final table. That being said, I still think it’s going to drive a lot of viewers each week with him being on all of the episodes and by the time he busts, viewers will be invested enough to watch the final table. There are always stories to be had from other people and sharing the spotlight with other guys is important. If we can’t develop new stars, it will be bad for the industry.

VR Coming to Online Poker

One complaint poker “purists” have about online poker is that it doesn’t feel like real poker. You can’t stare into your opponent’s soul to see if he really has the goods, you can’t count out your chips, and you can’t see and hear the poker room’s atmosphere all around you. Some of that could change in the next few years thanks to rapidly developing virtual reality technology.

For example, there are a number of personal VR headsets in development at the moment, with the leader, the Oculus Rift, set to launch its retail product at the beginning of next year. The Rift has already gotten into the hands of thousands of developers and testers and is already a smash hit.

Without getting too deep into how the technology works, VR headsets like the Oculus Rift envelop the user’s field of view, projecting a video image on two screens simultaneously to give the wearer a first-person, three-dimensional, immersive point of view. The device detects head movement as well, shifting the viewing angle just like in real life; look down and the VR image looks down. Headphones can be worn to get a fully immersive audio experience as well.

Games are the first natural application for virtual reality, but VRWorld speculates that online poker could be a realm into which VR could expand as the technology matures. Imagine sitting down at a “real” poker table, seeing your opponents around you, actually looking down at your hole cards, and eyeballing players’ stacks.

You could turn around in your seat to look at other tables, perhaps check out the tournament clock, or call for a chip runner. Heck, maybe when you log in, you could actually walk into the poker room and sit down at a table.

VR certainly has a ways to go before this will be possible. How difficult is it to link multiple VR players in a single game? Will there be issues merging the VR technology and poker room security? Will it be possible to stream an entire virtual poker room? Even with those and other issues, VR poker does seem like a possibility, but not for a few years.

There have been attempts at making online poker more realistic. True Poker launched several years ago amidst the poker boom, giving players a first-person point of view. Hole cards were dealt face down; a player’s avatar would actually look down and peel the corners to see their hole cards. Whenever a player looked at their hole cards, everyone could see that they were doing so. HogWild Poker also featured a similar technology.

Later, PKR (pictured) launched, upping the ante a bit. The table is presented in a three-dimensional environment and players are allowed to select different camera angles. Players can dress their avatars in different ways and even make them emote. Of course, none of those rooms is anything compared to what real VR would be.

One problem with VR online poker would be that it would make multi-tabling basically impossible and therefore completely unattractive to heavy grinders. But, online poker rooms are trying to appeal to casual players more and more and something like this, if it works well, could be perfect. It would inject much more fun into the game and, after all, isn’t poker supposed to be fun?

Canadian Poker Pro Died in a Plane Crash

Canadian poker pro Norman Overdijk died this past weekend in an ultralight plane crash, according to a report from CBC News.

Overdijk was well-known among the poker playing community in Canada.

The 54-year-old was the pilot of the aircraft. The accident happened in a rural area after the plane crashed into the side of a barn just moments after take-off.

“He was kind of a celebrity, I guess,” poker writer Anthony Charter told CBC News. “All across Canada, in every poker room, there was someone in there who knew who he was…He was fun and hard to play against. You never really knew what he was doing. He was super aggressive and just loved to put chips in the pot.”

“He played poker the way he died — rough and ready,” a fellow poker player told the Herald News.

Overdijk lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A passenger in the plane survived the crash but is being treated for injuries.

How to Sell Stakes With Success

It’s is an irreplaceable tool for building a poker player’s career. Any talented player may find himself in a situation where backing is the only way to continue playing. A severe downswing or a need to spend most of a bankroll on unforeseen needs sometimes leave a person no choice other than to quit playing or sell stakes.

There are, of course, much less dramatic situations. A player may feel that he is ready to move up in stakes, but he is not prepared to assume all of the risks connected with this move. A player may feel like playing large fields and some expensive tournaments with relatively weak players where he is able to show a high ROI, but he cannot afford it. In this case, it would be a better idea to share some of the potential profit with backers. But how does a player, especially a beginning one, find a backer?

Earn reputation and build an image

Reputation in the community is one of the crucial factors that will affect your ability to get staked. Inaccuracy in your financials and aggression in the chat or on the forum will undoubtedly injure your reputation. A competent backer would not trust his money to a player who was once inaccurate in calculations selling an offer and treat with caution a person who allows himself to insult his colleagues. Honesty and politeness are a pledge for good reputation.

Aside from reputation, there is a person’s image. Image is a part of a strategy at the tables and a trump card away from them. Having an image of a successful player, you can sell stakes for online and offline sessions in a quicker and less formal way. So, how can you build it?

Tell people about yourself

Create a blog to tell how old you are, where you live, and what your hobbies are. Post a photo and share links to your social network profiles. This way you can give potential investors a complete picture of yourself. It is always more pleasant to deal with a real person. Backers are afraid to trust money to anonymous players.

Post some interesting hands and life stories, share streams or videos of the sessions that you record, and, of course, post links to your offers. Communicate with your readers and be an active member of the community where you plan to sell stakes. Eventually, you might be invited to a pro players’ study group to work on your skills together.

If you have trained with some well-known coaches, be sure to mention it. Ask your peers, friends, and old backers to give you a brief recommendation.

Learn to sell yourself

A backer should have no doubt that your pretty graph displays your actual skill and not just a random upswing. Take screenshots of your actual and expected win rates from Hold’em Manager and PokerTracker, post- and pre-ante stages separated.

Pay a well-known coach to review your hand history and provide an expert evaluation.

Avoid competition

If you are not a well-known player, sell your first offers with a small mark-up. All things being equal, a backer would prefer to buy from a well-known player and not you. You can avoid competition by offering stakes at a smaller mark-up or profit share.

Design your tournament schedule carefully

The more balanced your tournament grid is, the more backers will be interested in investing in you. There is nothing worse than an offer where $5+R rebuys and $11 freezouts are combined with $109 turbos and $215 1,000+ fields. Many backers never invest in offers that include turbos. If you want to play different types of tournaments, publish two offers with different terms. Another advantage of this approach is that you may adjust the terms and your investment in buy-in more liberally.

Be punctual

This is by far the most important rule. Publish your results right after you finish playing. Transfer the funds on time. If you decide to postpone an offer, make sure to warn your backers and explain the reasons. Ask for their express approval of this action or cancel the offer and return their funds promptly if anyone of them disagrees.

If you won a major tournament on PartyPoker, where there is a fee for cashing out via Skrill, ask your backers if they agree to pay the fee or can wait until you find an exchange. Better yet, outline the rules for this type of a situation in the original offer. This way, you will prevent any potential misunderstandings or disagreements at the outset.

In general, warn your backers of any possible adverse events (withdrawal/exchange fees, tax consequences, etc.) beforehand.

Want to learn more about backing and get more practical advice from the 2CardsCollege’s senior coach Alex Assassinato Fitzgerald? Register for Alex’s free webinar, which will be held on July 30 at 19:00 CEST.

Negreanu Recalls on His Biggest WSOP Main Event Mistakes

Six-time bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu navigated through a massive field of 6,420 WSOP Main Event entrants only to be knocked out just two spaces shy of locking up a spot as a November Nine finalist. When his pair of aces fell victim to poker pro Joe dude904 McKeehan’s rivered straight, the Canadian grinder fell to his knees in anguish before collecting himself and his $526,776 11th place payout.

But like all of the game’s best players, Negreanu was quick to study his performance at the tournament, looking for spots where he could have played hands more optimally. In his blog, he focused on two hands during which he made seemingly small mistakes, but that nevertheless stuck out in his mind.

In the first hand, poker pro Justin stealthmunk Schwartz limped with a 500k chip in the cutoff with blinds at 80k-160k. Negreanu found the fact that Schwartz had used a large denomination chip to make the call telling.

“I know limping is part of his game plan, but he had smaller denomination chips that he could have called with,” Negreanu wrote. “My thinking was that he did this on purpose to make it look like he meant to raise so that the rest of us left in the hand would be less likely to attack his limp.”

On the button, Negreanu looked down to see 8d-7d and limped as well. “This is exactly the type of hand that plays well post-flop and I didn’t think it was necessary to isolate Justin (pictured),” he said. The small blind checked and a Kd-7s-6c flop was dealt.

The action was checked to Negreanu, who took a stab with a 250k bet. The big blind folded and Schwartz check-raised to 600k. Negreanu made the call with his pair along with a variety of backdoor possibilities. The turn was a blank; Schwartz went all-in for 3 million and Negreanu quickly folded.

“My bet-sizing on the flop allowed Justin enough room to check-raise me as a bluff,” he explained. “If I bet 450k, he would have had to risk a million or so to bluff me and that wouldn’t have left him enough wiggle room. By betting just 250k in a spot where I could easily be bluffing myself, I opened the door to get outplayed.”

In the end, Negreanu’s fears of being outplayed were confirmed when his opponent showed Qc-Tc for nothing more than a backdoor flush draw picked up on the turn. “That could have been avoided had I made a more substantial bet on the flop,” he concluded.

In the second hand, German Alex Turyansky (pictured) opened for 600k from middle position at a five-handed table. Negreanu defended with Ac-6c in the small blind and the pair saw a flop of T-T-3. “Some would argue calling pre-flop is a mistake,” he said. “I disagree with that, and that’s not the mistake.”

Negreanu checked and his opponent bet 350k. Feeling that he had the best hand, Negreanu planned to check-raise to 1 million “and put the pressure on Alex to guess.” A 10 could very well have been a part of Negreanu’s range and he hoped that Turyansky might even fold a hand like 8-8.

But reflecting after the fact, Negreanu realized that he “rarely has a hand like that and bets only 350k.” For his opponent to call his check-raise, he would have had to call more than 25% of his stack “and then be in no man’s land on the turn whether I bet or check.”

Negreanu decided not to make the play and his ace-high was bested by Turyansky’s Q-9 after a 9 fell on the turn. “Did I played him the best way that I could? No,” he said. “There is value in analyzing your plays, not your variance.”