Poker strategy: Service your game with our M.O.T.

Your poker game is like a car – it needs regular servicing to make sure it’s always in tip-top condition. But if you haven’t looked under the bonnet for a while don’t be concerned, as we’ve booked you in for a check-up. Take the PokerPlayer MOT to see what parts of your game are running smoothly and what leaks need to be fixed…

Taking your car in for its MOT is a necessary evil, designed to ensure all the parts are in working order. It can be a costly exercise, but it’s vital if you don’t want your old banger to turn into a flaming fireball the next time you make an emergency stop. But wouldn’t it be great to have the same kind of safety measures in place at the poker table, to stop yourself from blowing your bankroll in unnecessary ways?

Well, panic no longer. All you have to do is take the PokerPlayer MOT and get your game back on the road! Over the next four pages we’ll be getting under the hood of five vital parts of your game – value betting, tilt, game selection, bankroll management and bluffing – to see what’s working and what needs fixing. And even if you don’t detect too many leaks in your pokermobile, you’ll still find some tips to give your game a tune-up.

Value Betting

The problem

Getting the most out of your engine when you ll it up is essential and the same can be said of getting maximum value from your strong hands. Any time you don’t value bet when you should, you’re leaving money on the table that should be yours.

But how can you tell if you’re not getting good value for your big hands?

One way is to ask yourself if you only seem to win small and medium-sized pots yet lose a lot of big ones. If this is the case you probably need to start value betting more thinly.

Get it fixed

The good news is that this leak is simple to x. When you have a hand that you believe is better than your opponent’s you should bet. In most cases you should be looking for a reason not to bet rather than the other way round. Making any adjustments from this mindset should be for a good reason – you may not want to get check-raised off a good but not great hand, or you may be checking behind to induce a bluff on a later street, for example.

There is also the distinct possibility that your value bets are just too small and that you’re letting other players draw too cheaply. Default value bets should be around half to two-thirds of the pot, but essentially a value bet can be as much as you think your opponent will frequently call while behind. It’s worth experimenting with bet sizing when you are sure you have the goods. Sometimes a large overbet that only gets called occasionally will have more expected value than a small milking bet that will be called almost always.

Pass the test

In a hand from the Million Dollar Cash Game, Tom Dwan’s 5♦-3♦ hits perfectly on a J♦-8♦-Q♦ flop. After Mike Matusow bets and is called by Phil Ivey, Dwan has a decision to make about how to get maximum value from his huge hand. He could reraise now at the risk of telegraphing his hand or just call for deception at the risk of letting another diamond fall, killing the value of his hand. Dwan opts for the former, reraising to $17,900 and getting it all-in against Ivey who has the nut flush draw. By playing his hand fast Dwan manages to get the maximum value from a pot that could have been a lot smaller if he had elected to just call on the flop.

Tilting

The problem

Just as driving without control of your emotions can end in a car crash, tilting
at the poker table can result in severe damage to your bankroll. Tilt will cause standard variance to go flying out of the window as hands are played fast, loose and without reason. Tilt can come around from the smallest of things – an opponent sucking out or showing a bluff to you in a big pot. If you’re prone to tilt it could be the most dangerous leak in your game.

Get it fixed

Tilt is caused by a loss of emotional control and there are two key ways to deal with it: keep calm or walk away. You have to reach the point where you are able to accept the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune and play on objectively, or sit out and play later if your emotions are all over the place.

This is a really hard thing to teach, and only comes through practice and experience. You have to try and stay focused on making the correct decisions and let the results fall where they may.
It may not feel like it at the time, but if you keep making the correct decisions the money will eventually follow.

Running bad can be upsetting but if you let that frustration seep into your game you may well start making some horrendous decisions and compound your previous losses. If you’re really that affected by what has happened at the table then it’s time to take a quick walk and clear your head. There’s no shame in it and the games will still be there when you decide to return.

Pass the test

Phil Ivey is a great example of a player who takes each decision one at a time and fails to let his emotions get the better of him. Watch this interview where, moments after losing a $233k pot, Ivey provides the perfect riposte to an interviewer who questions what is going through his mind: ‘Erm, nothing really, it’s just a normal fluctuation of poker… it’s really not that big a deal.’  (from 3.48)

Bankroll Management

The problem

Driving your car with no insurance is as idiotic as sticking your head in a door and asking someone to slam it shut. If you total your car then you can generally turn to your insurance to get it sorted. In poker terms having insurance means playing within your bankroll limits. If you play at stakes where you only have a few buy-ins available then you’re very liable to go broke. Even if you’re good enough to beat the game, the variance involved in poker could still break you.

Get it fixed

With good bankroll management you should (theoretically) never go broke. If that means dropping down in limits then so be it. At the lower stakes you should probably have at least 30 full buy-ins for no-limit cash games. So if you’ve got a bankroll of $200 you can should play $0.05/$0.10 ring games. If you tend to play higher stakes than that, or games like heads-up cash or PLO where the swings are much greater, then having somewhere between 40-50 full buy-ins is a more advisable bankroll. If SNGs or MTTs are your thing then you should have at least 50 buy-ins. If you’re going to take shots do so responsibly and quickly move down if you’re not beating the games.

Pass the test

There’s no one size fits all though, when it comes to bankroll management. Who better to explain the full ins and outs than master grinder and Twitch star Jaime Staples?

Bluffing

The problem

If you’ve got a dodgy gearbox your motor can lurch forward erratically and make for a pretty uncomfortable ride. It’s much the same in poker when your bluffing makes no sense because of strange bet sizes and weird moves. In a poker hand your changes in gear should be smooth and made for a reason, not because you’re panicking about how to win the hand.

Get it fixed

Look back at some of the hands where you’ve had your bluffs called to see if you can spot a common trend. Bluffs should be indistinguishable from your value bets, so if you’re always sliding huge stacks of chips forward when stealing, and only small ones when value betting, then it’s time to even them up. Also, if you’re a player that never ever bluffs, it’s probably time to start. At lower stakes you can get away with just playing your cards – even if you’re missing out on some value – but as you move up you’ll have to mix up your play.

Pass the test

Dutch Team PokerStars pro Lex Veldhuis gives a masterclass in bluffing in this compilation from the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Veldhuis isn’t afraid to put the pedal to the metal and get it all-in when he knows he’s behind but is certain the other player can’t call. The thing to pick up on is his show of strength throughout the hands – betting, check-raising and shoving are all used to great effect against weaker opposition.

Game Selection

The problem

Just as being able to see over your steering wheel is vital in a car, having full vision at the poker table is equally important. Knowing who is sat to your left and right at a table – particularly in short-handed ring games – is half the battle. If you never pay attention to who is registering in your sit-and-go or sat at your cash table, then you’re playing poker with some huge blind spots.

Get it fixed

If you’re new to a site or playing low-level SNGs and MTTs your opponents will all be strangers. You can, however, still get some info on them through websites like SharkScope and Official Poker Rankings. These sites will at least show you whether they are winning players or not.

When you’ve been playing at one site for a while it pays to buy software like Poker Tracker. This will give you lots of valuable stats on your own play and that of your opponents, which can help to give you an edge.

Other than that you need to start taking notes too. You should type in to your site’s notes tab which players are tight, loose, passive, aggressive, strong, weak, and even as specific as hand ranges and particular lines you’ve seen them take. The most important thing after that is to then act on your notes by checking them before you sit down at the table. There’s little point being sandwiched between two solid players when there’s another seat available giving you position on a sh.

Pass the test

As an example of some very bad game selection just take a look at the durrrr Million Dollar Challenge, where Sammy ‘Any Two’ George takes on Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan. George isn’t a bad player, but choosing to play arguably the best heads-up player in the world at stakes of $500/$1000 is a -EV decision. Poor George loses $750,000 in the session, but on the other hand Dwan shows some great game selection skills…


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