Ellie Biessek: Tournament tactics #5 – taking advice

Getting help with your game is good, says Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek, as long as it’s from the right person

I’ve already discussed the importance of watching your opponent, as well as being aware of your own image. I’ve also talked about how to change your game depending on circumstances and how running bad can damage your ability to make the right decisions. There is another factor which can damage your game severely – taking bad advice.

Generally, when people need advice they ask those who are close to them. The problem is that even if the adviser has the best of intentions they might simply not be good enough to give advice.

If you want to get the best advice you should ask yourself who is the best in that field you can talk to.

I’m not saying that the only person you should ask for poker advice is Phil Ivey, but choose someone who has solid results to back up their words. In poker this can be even trickier because different people have different styles. Let me give you an example of a hand

  • Hero (UTG): A♣-Q♣
  • Stack 48,000, blinds 400/800/a100
  • Hero raises to 2,000, MP calls and BB three-bets to 6,000

Let’s stop here. Lots of players will be ready to announce what you should do at this point. Some of them will elect to call, some to fold and some to raise. Who should you listen to? I wouldn’t listen to anyone at this point as I don’t have enough information.

SCENARIO A

• Hero four-bets to 12,000

Let’s assume the Hero is a tight but tricky player who hasn’t played a hand for hours. MP is an amateur with a starting stack of 20,000, while BB is a very aggro-loose player who seems to be the bully at the table. He has been up and down with his stack and currently has 60,000.

From previous hands we’ve seen he is likely to call a four-bet with a mediocre holding, while five-betting with a premium hand. Given this, can you blame the Hero for four-betting to 12,000?

Forget that you know the Hero’s hand and ask yourself a question. A tight player, who hasn’t played a hand for hours, raised from UTG, got three-bet and four-bet back with two players still to act. That just screams of strength. The Hero is now going to get a precise answer as to whether his A♣-Q♣ is the best hand or not.

SCENARIO B

• Hero just calls

Let’s now assume that the Hero is a very good postflop player who is opening a lot of pots. MP is an amateur who, from previous observation, is most likely to call only one raise with a mediocre holding, but not two.

BB this time is a ‘loose cannon’, totally unpredictable and happy to take risks. Now the Hero has chosen a more cautious route because he has his postflop skills and position to his advantage in this hand.

SCENARIO C

• Hero folds

Let’s now assume that the Hero’s image is tight and MP is a dangerous player with a stack of 20k who sometimes slowplays his monsters hands. BB has only played two hands since the start of the tournament. He called both preflop and won both at showdown with A-Ko and T-T.

Wouldn’t you agree that the Hero has chosen the best course of action in each scenario? Many players just love to criticise others. They will say, ‘How do people even play poker when they fold/call/raise with that?’ The truth is that you should never listen to them because they are bad teachers. Good players will not be giving you advice or telling you that you played badly at the table, because it is in their interests for you to make mistakes. It is also really bad etiquette.

Good advice explains the logic behind the way a hand could be played, rather than just saying that it should be played in a certain way. So, if you hear a player criticising you at the poker table, rest assured that they’re probably not very good – don’t let their poor advice affect your game.


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