• Pro Perspective


    Heads-Up Shootout

    Play a Difficult Hand of Low-Stakes Online Hold’em With a Pro

    By Carl “The Dean” Sampson

    This month we will be looking at one of my own hands from my $100k challenge, where I’m trying to turn $10k into $100k online. Any poker hand can end up in a heads-up situation in the blink of an eye even in cash games and this is what happens here. The hand is taken from a NL100 ring game online, which many people may consider not being worth serious study when it comes to heads-up play. But what is instructive about this hand is that the decisions do not reflect any close examination of the opponent, as I simply didn’t know him well enough. However, I was playing nine tables at full ring at the time and so my decisions were based on the concept of group integrity rather than looking at each hand in a vacuum.

    The phrase “group integrity” needs a little explanation because it essentially means playing in such a way as to harmonise your game because you are playing so many tables at the same time. Many multi-tabling specialists would scoff at someone who only plays nine tables at full ring when the serious multi-tabling pros can play as many as 20 tables at six-max. However, I have often gotten myself into trouble because I was rushed into making snap decisions in escalating pots that were happening on several tables at once.

    My game is based on rakeback and exploiting the weaker deep-stacked players at levels like NL100, and this strategy now suits me fine. In this hand I open-raised with 5-5 from middle position. This is a standard play for me for several reasons. First of all, the hand has post-flop potential and even though the odds of hitting my set are not good, raising gets me the initiative. Furthermore, I can win the pot when no one calls and I can win against a single opponent who flat-calls me. Also, it is easier to play for stacks should I flop big when I have already raised.

    Everyone folds around to the big blind, who calls. I have no information on him, so my ABC game will dictate my decisions here. The flop comes 7-6-2 rainbow and the big blind checks. This is a standard continuation bet situation. My single opponent has checked and the flop is relatively favourable for me. If I check this flop this presents me with a potential problem if my opponent bets the turn if an overcard comes. So I don’t want to lose the initiative and place myself into a situation where I don’t really know what is happening.

    I don’t believe in always c-betting heads-up, even when I have been the preflop raiser. I think too many players expect the move these days and you need to be somewhat more sophisticated than that. But I have a hand and I don’t want to give my opponent a free card, so I bet $5 into the $7.50 pot and my opponent calls, making the pot $17.50 (less the rake). It needs pointing out here that the stacks sizes are relatively similar at about the $120 mark.

    The turn card is a queen, which devalues my hand, but it is unlikely to have hit my opponent. I would ideally like to know how this player operates post-flop – if he will call one barrel with air to see what I do on the turn and if he is prepared to call further barrels.

    It is very useful to know on what streets your opponent has a bias towards folding. There was no flush draw present on the flop and an eight-out straight draw would mean that my opponent had to have called with a hand like 9-8, 5-4 or the more unlikely 8-5. The latter two hands are clearly unlikely given what my own hand is and so a straight draw is unlikely.

    These are all possibilities but I felt that my opponent had the type of hand that his play indicated, and that was a mediocre hand that wouldn’t go away on the flop. If he has a pair of sevens or sixes or maybe a hand like pocket eights, then I need to make him fold, as a showdown is useless to me.

    I also feel that I need to make a sizable bet on the turn now that the queen has arrived because checking the turn and seeing my opponent check it back is going to make it tougher to bet the river if my fives turn into a bluffing hand. I also think that stacking off on the river is something that I need to look at also. I bet $12 on the turn and my opponent tanks before calling, making the pot around $40. Now I know that I am losing but I also think that sixes can now be eliminated. I think my opponent has a hand like a medium pair that he decided to play slowly preflop.

    The river card is another queen, which doesn’t help me as it means that in my opponent’s eyes then I am less likely to have a queen. The only real drawing hand is 9-8 but that is too remote to consider, and so after my opponent once again checks I know that my hand is probably not good. So I need to decide how much to bet or whether to bet at all. This is where I think a big bet gets looked up more often because my range is polarised given that I have bet all three post-flop streets.

    I want to make it look like a value bet but just enough for him to find a tough fold. Of course I have no player information and am merely basing my play on my default game plan of assuming that a NL100 is a decent player. I think a small and a large bet both look suspicious, but I want that suspicion to work for me and not against me. I wait a few seconds and bet $17. My opponent once again tanks but this time he folds and he is nice enough to flash me pocket tens.

    Tilt: The Great Equalizer

    Look for Reasons NOT to Play

    By Mike Wolf

    I don’t want to hear it! Everyone – I mean everyone – encounters tilt. Tilt is the given, the rake, if you will. No matter how good a poker player is, he or she will, one time or another, experience one of the various forms tilt inhabits. This month I would like to talk about a few different forms of tilt, where they come from and how to limit the negative effects of the multi-headed beast before it crushes your self-esteem and your bankroll.

    What is tilt?

    A fair definition is something along these lines: Tilt is when external or internal factors negatively effect your decision-making at the poker table. Take note of the word “external.” There will be numerous times during our poker careers where things outside of poker “tilt” us. For example, you’re making your standard drive to your favorite poker room when you get pulled over for speeding. Boom – you got a ticket. Bad beat, huh? Before you even get to the table you’re “stuck” $150.

    Or you get a flat tire. You don’t stand a chance. It’s sad, really – you might as well turn the car around and go home. Seriously. Your best line of action would be to not play.

    Girlfriend picking fights with you? Don’t play. Feeling a little sick or just off in general? Don’t play. Just ate a big meal or have something on your mind? Don’t play! I know you don’t want to hear it but you will be playing less than “A game” poker in these situations which, over the long run, just isn’t profitable – or I should say isn’t as profitable as it could be.

    The money you don’t lose during these sessions is just the same as money you’ve won when you tally up your total profit at the end of the month/year/decade.

    Reasons to Not Play

    I like to give myself reasons not to play. I know that sounds silly, but it helps me to play only when I’m fully focused and ready to crush people. Ever wonder how I manage to beat $1-$2 and $2-$5 NL hold’em for an insane win rate over the past year? Two reasons: table selection and mistake-free sessions. I only play when subtle tilt factors are out of the equation.

    The external factors listed above are outside our locus of control. As poker players we must learn what it is we can control and let go of everything else.

    The good news is the benefits of this way of living extend far outside the grasp of poker. You can’t control the economy crashing and losing your job, you can’t control the guy behind you from smashing into your car, you can’t control the rain, etc. Learn to absolutely let go of everything you cannot control and trust me, you will feel a great weight fall off your shoulders.

    On the opposite side of the same coin, we must monitor and obsess over the things we can control. Internal factors such as being tired, getting angry or being let down by the outcome of a certain hand are just unacceptable. Being tired at the poker table can ignite the onset of subconscious tilt where we may play more hands in an attempt to double up or go broke so that we can go home.

    This “stacking off” of our last buy-in will have a disastrous effect on our bottom line over the course of a year. Don’t believe me? Try recording your results when you have a third of your initial buy-in left for a few months and tell me what you see. Scary, huh?

    We can control our bodies to an extent. The benefits of going to the gym and eating healthy food are numerous and once again they extend far outside the clutches of this game we play. Diet and exercise gives us more energy and helps us think more clearly when at the tables. In a game where knowledge is rapidly increasing among the general population, we must distance ourselves from the pack in any way possible.


    I want to quickly give you guys an example before I wrap up this “tilty” article. I just got back from a three-day trip to Atlantic City. After spending three weeks in Vegas for the WSOP (didn’t win a bracelet but won quite a bit in the side games) and playing in cardrooms such as Bellagio and Aria and drinking Fiji, I knew it was going to be hard to focus while grinding at the Taj. At any rate, me and my friend Giuseppe “Margheretti!” Forgione took the 90-minute drive down the Garden State to play some cash games.

    Problem was that comped hotel rooms all over the city were already booked for the holiday. I have a Black Card at the Borgata and the Taj and still couldn’t get a room, which was very frustrating. Then Denny’s overcharged us for our Grand Slams, then the White Horse Pike hotel overcharged my credit card, then the police closed the street near the hotel so we had to take a detour, then the Taj took forever to valet my car.

    Joey decided to continue to play the second day we were there, but I took most of the day off. We are both of equal poker acumen yet he dropped $1k and I won more than $1,500 for the trip. Short sample size, I ran good, he ran bad, I totally understand. But Margheretti could not have been playing his “A game” after all the terrible events that transpired.

    It’s OK, Big Joe, you’ll get ’em next time. I believe in you!

    Lastly, as for the “supercalifragilistic monkey all-in blind tilt,” I will say one thing: If you experience uncontrollable tangents of insanity when playing poker, maybe the game just isn’t for you. You can always learn to compete in the UFC.

    Mike Wolf is a 22-year-old pro who travels the world as he pleases. After graduating at the top of his class with honors in business while missing close to 80 percent of his classes, he read the novel “On the Road” and decided to spend his life wandering from place to place. He is also a team pro for surebetpoker.net, which  launches internationally in the near future. Follow him on twitter @mikewolf7 or on Facebook at mw788998@albany.edu. He can be reached directly at MichaelJWolf33@gmail.com.