10 Cool Poker Thoughts I Read in 2006
As most of you know from reading here regularly, I read an awful lot of poker books. I am one of the unfortunate ones who happen to have a regular day job, non-poker-related, and in fact I stand and wait for the train and wait while riding on the train for a good 15 or 20 minutes at least, each way, 5 days a week. And while some people on the train stare into space, and others do the iPod thang, I am definitely the reading type. In fact, I am always reading two or three different books at the same time, keeping one at every place I spend a lot of time during my typical day. And with all that constant reading going on, given my current interests, I end up spending a ton of time reading poker books.
Fortunately, here is the place where you can hear about the smartest and most helpful points I read in all these poker books, because I often have written this year about interesting concepts I've read about during my poker reading. Often here I have specifically mentioned a particular author and book in mentioning a particular poker topic, but other times I have written many, many posts that are clearly "inspired by" a poker book I've been into recently, even if I don't specifically call it out as such in the blog. I am constantly trying out new moves and strategies discussed in my poker literature, and many of those moves or strategies have had a way of eventually showing up herein some form or another.
So, as I put 2006 in the books in terms of the blog, I thought it might be interesting for me and for you all if I included a list of 10 Cool Poker Thoughts I Read In 2006. For each item on the following list, I will make sure to mention where I got it from, and why I that particular point has been meaningful to me and/or my poker game. One thing you'll find among most of these poker thoughts is that some of the points themselves tend to be rather obvious once you read them; nonetheless, one of the things a great author does regularly -- especially in a "methods" book like most poker strategy books out there -- is captures the essence of a key topic, but in a very down-to-earth, easy to understand format. So, many of these points may well seem fairly self-evident to many of you. And you may be right, and I won't necessarily disagree with you on that point. Nonetheless, when read them for the first time this year, I found them to be explained with an appropriate amount of clarity and sensibility that they really managed to drive the point home to me moreso than most other poker texts out there. And I've read 'em all, so the following list is, for me, the best of the best.
1. One book I read and did not like so much during 2006 is Antonio Esfandiari's cash game book In the Money, published by the WPT. I posted about this at some point during the year, as I read through The Magician's cash game book as well as his good friend Erick Lindgren's tournament text called Making the Final Table, also from WPT publishing. Despite not really finding a whole lot of new meaty concepts in Antonio's book, he made a point buried somewhere in the middle that really struck me as something that many of the guys even I play with regularly have not necessarily grasped conceptually. In a section about sizing your bets correctly, Antonio observed that if you are sizing your bets correctly, you should be relatively indifferent if a player calls your bet to draw at whatever he's drawing at, say, on the flop in no-limit holdem. In other words, you should not be pissed off when you flop TPTK with unsoooted big slick in a nlh cash game or tournament, you bet out what what is fairly sure to be the best hand, and your opponent calls you with an oesd or a flush draw. If you are pissed off when your opponent calls your bet, then you're not betting enough. In general, in a no-limit game, you should always be betting enough that your opponent would be taking the worst of it odds-wise to call on any draws, but not too much more than that so that if they hit their draws anyways, your stack is crippled. Antonio's point, which is something I have long practiced in my own game, is that you should be betting the proper amount in these situations so that anyone with only 8 or 9 outs with 2 cards to come is mathematically taking the worst of it if they pay to draw. And in that situation, if you've adequately made them overpay to chase their draws, then you simple have nothing to be annoyed about when they do, invariably, make the bad call to chase. Let people chase against you all night at poor odds; that should not make you anything but pleased whenever it happens.
2. Speaking of Antonio's good friend and known aggro-boy Erick Lindgren, I much more enjoyed his book this year, which I found to be much more full of good tips and strategies from a proven, repated nlh tournament pro. In a chapter of his book devoted to playing the flop, Erick made an interesting point that I had not previously thought about in the exact terms as he put it in. Erick explains that when betting out on the flop in no-limit holdem, either with a made hand of some kind or as a continuation bet, you should always bet more into flops with many draws, and bet less into flops without obvious draws, with rags, etc. Now, this is one of those that may seem intuitively obvious (I don't know), but all I know is that when I first read this passage from Erick, I was definitely intrigued, and I know I had not conceived of that notion before, at least not consciously. The idea, of course, is that you have to try a little harder to chase drawers out of hands when there are many draws available. Again, this is not necessarily brain surgery here, but previously I had been making the exact same sized c-bets at flops, without regard to the substance of the flop, as long as I thought I could steal the pot. I can confidently say that Erick's advice has saved me a good deal of chippage over the past several months of nlh play.
3. Dan Harrington released Volume 3 of his seminal nlh tournament book Harrington on Holdem early in 2006, and as I wrote here at the time, I was disappointed overall in this follow-up to what is without a doubt the best pure nlh tournament book series I've ever read. Nonetheless, one point that Harrington made in Volume 3 that I found very interesting was that it is more likely that other limpers have connected with medium-card flops than with high-card flops. As with many of the other points on this list, Harrington's concept here is not rocket science and may have been intuitive to some of you, but Harrington has a way of explaining in common English a number of ideas that may have been known to some, but which I have never really thought of exactly how he explains it, and this s a great example. While at first I was convinced that Harrington was giving bad advice that was only applicable to the particular hand example he was profiling at the time in his book, in retrospect I can say again that this advice from Harrington has saved me demonstrable chips throughout this year. For example, with 4 limpers including me into a pot, and with me holding AJo and figuring I am likely in front heading into the flop, when the flop comes 778 or 779, I no longer aggressively bet out with a c-bet or probe bet to try to take the thing down. And if I do but get raised, I am outta there like it's my job. Harrington is right -- limpers tend to have middle cards, especially when you're facing a bunch of limpers. Good advice from a serious nlh tournament pro and writer.
4. One really great book I read this year was Small Stakes Holdem - Winning Big With Expert Play, a book that I now know to be considered the leading modern authority on beating low limit holdem cash games. There were a veritable ton of great points in this book, which I will tell you really does contain the basic formula to playing profitable limit holdem, but the one point that has stuck with me most is that even when you don't currently have the best hand, it often pays to raise in limit holdem just to buy yourself some more outs. Again, not the most earth-shattering thing I've ever heard, but when you're mostly a no-limit player, this "buying outs" concept doesn't apply nearly as much, because of the threat of getting raised for all your chips and being pushed off of hands. So, for example, when you're sitting on T9s and the board comes 78K3 rainbow in limit holdem, a well-timed raise might allow you to not only win with a 6 or a J that makes your straight, but also with a 9 or Ten if you can get some of the weaker Kings out there to lay it down to your aggression. The examples in the book are probably a lot better than this one, but this concept of buying outs by raising is one that has come in very handy for me when I've been forced to play limit holdem, such as in the many HORSE games I've focused on over the past several months.
5. As my regular readers this yearknow, Phil Hellmuth's poker book Play Poker Like the Pros was one of the most pleasantly surprising things I read during 206. For such an assholic animal in real life, his book is truly chock full of top-notch advice for all of the major poker games, and I will unabashedly admit that much of the profits and success I've had from non-holdem games this year are directly or indirectly attributable to Hellmuth's book, from starting hand charts to recommendtions and suggested plays along the way. One piece of advice that Hellmuth gives about hilo stud 8 or better, a game which I have focused on from both a tournament and a cash game perspective this year, really stuck with me and has done me quite well during 2006 -- you should push hard from the beginning with your high hands, but you can play your solid starting low hands slower. This is good advice for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that, when you bet third street with a King showing for example, everyone knows you're going high anyways for the most part, so you gain very little from playing that hand slow, other than giving more people the opportunity to draw out on you. Playing low hands slow, on the other hand, often enables you to win more bets from players on later streets, whether they are going high or going low. Plus, Hellmuth's advice also works because when you end up making a high hand from your starting low (a low straight, for example), you've got your opponents in a great position to not be able to put you on a high hand, and to win a number of bets as a result. I know a lot of hilo players follow this strategy, but Hellmuth's book was the first place I saw it in print, so I credit him for this valuable piece of strategy in a game I have had a ton of fun playing during 2006.
6. I finally read Lou Kreiger's Secrets the Pros Won't Tell You About Holdem late in 2006, and this is another one that has a number of good, practical points for the limit holdem players out there, albeit not as many as Small Stakes Holdem. Krieger makes one good point about "trouble hands" in holdem that was a bit different from what I'd heard in the past about them. Trouble hands -- a phrase used by Doyle, TJ Cloutier and others to describe easily-dominated holdem hands like KJ, AT, etc. -- have long been decried by poker authors and strategists because of that very reason -- they are so likely to be dominated whenever you get involved in a bit pot with them. And it's very true (take it from me!). But, Kreiger makes another great point in his book about why you don't want to play these trouble hands, in addition to their likelihood of domination: with the trouble hands, you are likely to either win a small pot, or lose a big pot. Hands like that are always questionable plays in all poker variants, so this is a valuable way of looking at the weaknesses of trouble hands, even if you are inclined to play one in position or under some other circumstance in a holdem game. So, if I'm playing QT for a raise preflop in holdem for example, I'm not going to be able to bet and raise aggressively throughout the hand even if I hit one of my pairs, because of the risk of being up against a higher pocket pair or a higher kicker. As a result, Kreiger explains, I will be left doing a lot of checking and calling instead of calling and raising, which will limit the upside I can realize with this kind of hand even when I am ahead. Meanwhile, as Doyle and others have pointed out, if I hit top pair on the flop, but end up being up against KQ or AQ, I am in big trouble and it will take me at least a bet or two to figure out I am losing a good-sized pot.
7. I finally got around to reading Phil Gordon's Little Green Book early in 2006 as well, and as my readers know, I loved this effort from one of the most personable tournament pros I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in person. One of the simplest, and yet most directly helpful, pieces of advice I found in poker books during the year was his straight-out statement that in nlh, the fourth raise always means Aces. While I can't say I've laid down Kings preflop like this guy based on Gordon's advice, I can definitely say that I see people make this mistake all the time in my nlh tournament play. Guys calling a re-re-reraise with pocket Qs or Js, or with AK, defintely do happen, and it's just about always a bad move. In a game with as little useful bright-line rules and advice like nlh, Gordon's statement about the fourth raise is basically always right, in my experience. Unless the guy is really short-stacked or something, the fourth raise really does always means Aces, and you should play every hand (even pocket Kings) as if this is in fact the case.
8. I also enjoyed Matt Maroon's book on Texas Holdem this year, another book related to limit holdem that I have picked up late in the year as I've been focusing more and more on HORSE, and consistently taking a beating during the LHE portions which unfortunately comprise a full one-fifth of the play in this tournament structure. Maroon's book also does not contain the meat of, say, Small Stakes Holdem, the definitive limit holdem book as far as I can tell, but it does have a few great nuggets of advice that almost anyone can work into their games. One of my favorite points from Maroon's book is that the turn is the street in limit holdem where you have to give serious consideration to folding if you have a good hand. On the flop, of course, it often pays in limit holdem to draw or just to stick around for one more card, since the betting is cheaper and since there are still two cards to come. And, on the river, as you limit guys out there know (are there even any limit grinders out there?), the betting structure of limit holdem often dictates that you call even when you're fairly sure you're behind. But Maroon's point is well-taken -- if you're going to find yourself behind on the river, and likely forced by the math to call unless youre something like 95% sure you are behind -- the turn is your chance to lay it down and save some good coin in the process. I have definitely seen my limit holdem game improve from following this advice, and from doing my best analysis and hand reading on the turn before I commit to the first double-bet, and typically tie myself on at the river as well. Very good advice.
9. I re-read Super System II about 10 times during 2006, including again just now as I am reviewing the non-holdem chapters now that I play these other games so much more frequently. As I've written about on the blog over the past several weeks, one game I am really getting into lately is not even part of the normal HORSE routine -- pot-limit Omaha high. I tend to find my way into a PLO tournament online many nights of late, and Lyle Berman said something in his PLO chapter in SSII that has stuck with me and really helped my PLO game overall. In stark contrast to Phil Hellmuth's advice, which is basically to push as hard as you can preflop whenever you are dealt two Aces, Berman advises that you should usually not raise preflop with Aces in PLO. Berman's advice basically relates to the fairly obvious advertising that preflop raising in Omaha high is for the fact that the preflop raiser is holding Aces. Berman points out that any preflop reraise almost always means Aces, and than in general, people will use against you the information they have that you have a pair of Aces once the flop hits the board. So, for example, Berman explains, when you've raised preflop, people more or less know you have Aces, and then they flop top and bottom pair, or middle two pairs on the turn, they are much more likely to move against you since they know you have a pair of Aces underneath. When you don't raise all the time preflop when you have Aces in PLO, you do not give away this information, and suddenly that guy with just a low two pairs on the turn is folding that trouble hand like he should be, not pushing allin against you. So Berman's advice has been very helpful for me, and I can say with confience that I am making more money on average when I'm dealt Aces than I used to when I followed Hellmuth's advice of raise raise raise, at least moreso later in tournaments when they quality of players is usually fairly high when compared to the opening rounds.
10. The last point I'm going to highlight that I read this year came from Mike Caro, though I don't believe it was in his seminal work on poker tells, which I read a few years ago now. Maybe it was in Caro's section in Super System II, I don't know, but the great advice he gave is a simple, direct piece of advice related directly to those who play online poker: when someone reraises allin after pausing until the last second before their time to act is up, this is the ultimate weak-means-strong act. I cannot count how many times I've seen this advice play out -- in random mtt's as well as almost every blogger tournaments at some point -- but the bottom line is that everyone thinks they are great actors online. Everone tries the same tricks, and waiting waiting waiting to givean appearance of weakness, followed by an allin raise, is the ultimate deception that almost everybody tries at some point if they play nlh. In general, a long pause followed by a call might be strength or it might be weakness, but a long pause followed by an allin raise almost always means one thing -- run like the wind, unless you've got the nuts. This is some of simplest, most practically profitable advice I've ever seen for the online poker player, and, like most of Caro's other advice, its pithiness is exceeded only by its usefulness and its profitability.
I hope you enjoyed these ten great poker book concepts that I read during 2006. If you aren't using some of them, and/or are not familiar with the authors who wrote them, you would probably enjoy reading them, and your game might very well benefit from these guys' advice.
I should be back tomorrow with some good goals for 2007, as well as another tournament report from the third-biggest tournament win I've recorded in my online poker career, which happened on early in the a.m. hours on New Years Day. Here's hoping everybody had a healthy and happy holiday season.