December 2016

A Simple New Year’s Resolution for Poker Players

By: Paul Hewson
 
What if I told you there’s an easy way to improve your poker game that requires no math, no study, basically no brain power at all? Okay, it does take some resolve – so why not make this simple one-step process your New Year’s Resolution for 2017? Here it is: Stop calling other players fish.

Many of the smarter poker pros have made it a point in recent years to change the language they use when referring to (possibly) less-skilled players. Even if you haven’t already made this change yourself, you may have noticed others doing it. The term “recreational player” has become the go-to description; “casual player” is another good one. Anytime you catch yourself saying or even thinking words like fish, donk, nit, or maniac, let alone anything with –tard at the end, use one of these other terms instead. Political correctness? Nope, just smart poker.
 
Don’t Tap the Glass
There are several problems with using these all-too-common slurs to describe your opponents. If you’re at the table and someone limps from early position, or 3-bets you with trash, or calls your turn barrel with very few outs, those are definitely things you want to make a note of. But they aren’t necessarily the signs of a weaker player. Maybe they’re trying to deceive you. Maybe they just mis-clicked. If you go after them with impunity, they could very well turn the tables on you.

It’s the impunity that you have to watch out for. When you label someone a fish, you’re de-humanizing your opponent, and in doing so, you’re cutting yourself off from truly understanding why they do what they do. There are no “non-thinking” players at the table. But there are recreational players. They want to have fun, so many of them open more hands than they mathematically should – but some open tighter, because they’re more comfortable sticking with premium hands. The more you can empathize with your opponents, the more accurately you’ll be able to profile and exploit them.

This is especially important in live situations. The last thing you want to do at the table is call someone a fish for making a sub-optimal play; they might get offended and leave, costing you a customer. Worse, they might wake up and start playing better. As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, he who exercises no forethought, but makes light of his opponents, is sure to be captured by them. Don’t be that person in 2017, or any year.

Unusual Poker Gifts for 2016

By: Paul Hewson
 
It’s always a bit tricky buying holiday gifts for the poker fan in your life. There’s no shortage of cool stuff to buy, but how much of it does the person in question already own? Unwrapping another chip set when you already have a good one isn’t much fun. The same goes with a nice deck of playing cards – unless it’s an antique. If you’re unwilling to ask the poker enthusiast for specific recommendations, you’re going to have to get something weird. Here are five interesting items available online as we go to press.
 
Poker Plaques by Brybelly
They might already have a set of poker chips, but how many people have plaques? These large rectangular Euro-style “chips” can be added to any set, representing high denominations; each one weighs 32 grams, yet they can still be shuffled like regular chips – with a little practice.
 
Men’s Cycling Clothes by PaladinSport
This is for the poker/cycling enthusiast in your life. The bib/shorts combo features a large playing-card print on the zip-up shirt; it’s a tight fit, so the company recommends getting one size larger for most people, and two sizes larger for the Dan Bilzerians and Greg Raymers on your holiday list.
 
Men’s Socks by Good Luck Sock
It wouldn’t be Christmas (or any other festive celebration) without giving someone socks as a gift. These “King of Spades” socks are pretty festive. They’re reinforced at the heel and toe, machine washable, and available in a wide variety of patterns like Hipster Dog and the Kraken.
 
Poker Tournament Trophy by Straight Poker Supplies
Assuming your intended target hasn’t already won a trophy on tour, this is the next best thing. Standing nine inches tall and weighing about 2.5 pounds, this statuette of a human hand holding a royal flush in spades says “POKER CHAMPION” on the front plate. Make sure to get a photo of your target holding the trophy aloft in triumph – and throw in some confetti for realism.
 
Daniel Negreanu Card Cover by Trademark Poker
Now you can have Canada’s greatest poker player at your table for every game – in miniature form. This hand-painted card protector looks more like a bobblehead of “Kid Poker” than the player himself, but the details are sharp. Not to worry if you’re not a big Maple Leafs Fan, like Negreanu. His iconic blue-and-white hockey sweater doesn’t have the Toronto Maple Leafs crest on it, in case that would have offended anyone.

Montreal Nationals Win GPL

By: Paul Hewson
 
It’s been a while since the city of Montreal had a champion. The Canadiens haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993, the last Grey Cup for the once-mighty Alouettes was in 2010, and Georges St-Pierre hasn’t fought in the Octagon since 2013. Maybe the Montreal Nationals won’t get a parade, but at least they won the first season of the Global Poker League, beating the Berlin Bears in the Finals and taking down the top prize of $100,000.

On pure talent alone, the Nationals (Martin Jacobson, Marc-Andre Ladouceur, Jason Lavallee, Pascal Lefrancois, Xuan Liu, Mike McDonald) figured to be one of the top teams in Season 1. Everything went according to plan; Montreal led the GPL in points almost from wire-to-wire, earning the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Then, with the Finals tied at 5-5 going into the last round, Lefrancois – the team captain – beat Brian Rast heads-up in the Cube to give Montreal the championship.
 
Better Call Paul
But will the Nationals get to defend their title? Interest in the GPL faded as the year wore on. The Finals, which were supposed to take place at Wembley Arena in London, were instead held in-studio without much fanfare – or viewership. Merchandise wasn’t even available until midway through the season, well after those swank team logos were revealed to the public. And league CEO Alexandre Dreyfus had some cashflow problems to contend with.

On the positive side, the GPL provided countless hours of pro-on-pro poker action, giving the world a look inside the minds (and strategies) of the top players in the game. On top of that, the appearance of Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul as a member of the LA Sunset helped bring in some extra spectators. If Dreyfus and his people can sign up some more celebrity players, improve the quality of the presentation, and trim some of the fat from the schedule, Season 2 might give the GPL the foothold it needs to stay in business.

In the meantime, the Montreal Nationals are the champions of the poker universe. You could see how important the title was to the players, who were biting their fingernails as they slugged it out with Berlin in the Finals. As McDonald said after the hard-fought victory, it was about the poker instead of the money, and by that measure, Season 1 of the GPL was a success.
                 

Are You Calling Enough From the Big Blind?

Are You Calling Enough From the Big Blind - Bodog Poker

By: Paul Hewson
 
No matter what level of poker you're at, whether you're playing Hold'em, Omaha, or Omaha Hi/Lo, chances are you've got a serious leak in your game: folding too much from the big blind. Database analysis proves that most players do this to some degree. You can exploit others with this problem by opening more hands, especially from late position, but it's more important to get your own leaks sorted out first.

It's easy to see why the big blind is so problematic. It's the second-worst position at the table, next to the small blind; you'll be out of position to everyone else postflop. Being forced to post the big blind isn't fun, either. Most of your losses in poker will come from the blinds, no matter how good you are. But playing from the big blind isn't nearly as tough as people make it out to be.
 
Blind Faith
There's a trick to this aspect of poker that not everyone understands: If you lose less than the one big blind you have to cough up in that seat, you're ahead of the game. Imagine you're at the checkout buying groceries, and the cashier tells you everything is 10% off today. That should make you pretty happy, especially if your groceries cost $100, or $1,000. You were going to have to buy them anyway.

Unfortunately, they don't give out discounts at the poker table – you have to earn them yourself. But playing from the big blind gives you one important advantage: You get to act last preflop. That means you can start guessing what your opponents might have before you make your decision. If you're playing 6-max Hold'em, and someone opens from under the gun, you can narrow their range down to roughly the top 15% of hands. If they're on the button, it'll be more like 50%.

It's pretty much a math question from there. Because you already posted the big blind, you don't have to invest as much to call as the person who open-raised. That means you get to call with a very wide range of hands. If your opponent is under the gun, you can consider calling with hands like Five-Deuce suited and Ten-Nine offsuit. If you're defending against a button open, hands as weak as Five-Three offsuit should do the trick. You'll probably lose that hand post-flop, but if you play it right, you'll lose less than your big blind in the long run. And you know what they say: A poker chip saved is a poker chip earned.