Aaron Thompson's Poker Blog

Let Someone Else Find the Leaks

Let Someone Else Find the Leaks

Any online poker player who consistently wins year in and year out, will tell you that self-analysis is a major part of their success. Some players will even go as far as studying more than they play. Studying poker includes reading all sorts of different material available to you, books, magazines, internet sources, and especially reviewing hand histories from games you've played.

I've already touched upon the importance of studying hand histories in a previous blog, as well as stressing the benefit of replayer software that is available to everyone these days. I want to further discuss self-analysis and try to highlight some benefits of alternative approaches that you may not be using to the fullest.

I truly believe that being self-aware is one of the most invaluable characteristics a poker player can possess. I don't know if self-awareness is something that can be taught, but it can certainly be improved upon by everyone. For instance, I consider myself to have a fairly unbiased realistic perspective of what my limits are as a poker player. Today after a tournament, I was ranting to a friend about a hand that cost me a significant stack, when he mentioned that he didn't particularly like the line I took. This kind of knocked me back for a moment. The specific move I had made which he had a problem with, was at the time, something I thought was no less than brilliant.

My first instinct was to argue with him and defend my position, but it took less than a minute for me to see all the reasons why he was right and why I butchered the hand. This got me to thinking almost immediately. I like to think I analyze my play without bias, but how honest can you actually be when trying to critic yourself. If you ask any poker player 3 things they do exceptionally well at the table, they will be able to rhyme these off in 30 seconds. Could they tell you 3 things things they need to improve upon? Probably, but it would take a lot longer than 30 seconds, and it would be likely that there are far more prominent leaks in their game than the ones they described.

The truth is this: In order to plug a leak in our game, we first have to be able to spot the hole. For whatever reason we are unable to spot the weaknesses in our game, and therefore can't make the necessary steps to correct them. For losing players this is easier to fix. Often losing and some break-even players make the mistake of analyzing hands with results-oriented bias. If they won the hand, they played it correctly. If they lost it, they should have done something differently. Most winning and break-even players know this to be false. We judge the hand based on the correctness of the decision, not the result.

However even winning players often fail to narrow this down further still. Perhaps you took a line that got your opponent to put all his chips in as a slight underdog, resulting in you winning the hand. You got your chips in good, you won the hand, what could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with getting your money in good, but getting your money in with the best of it, is a result in of itself. Ask yourself a few questions:

- Would my opponent have paid off his entire range with the line I took?
- Did he only pay me off this time because his hand was polarized to one side of his range?
- Could I have taken a different line that would have gotten my opponent to pay me off with the bottom end of his range as well?

Remember, when we're deciding what lines to take against opponents, we are making our decisions based on a range of possible hands our opponent may be holding, so our decisions need to account for both ends of this range and everything in between. If we're taking a line that only gets us paid when our opponent has a flush draw, but has us drawing dead the rest of the time, we can't evaluate the correctness of this line based solely on the one time we won the pot against a flush draw.

This type of thought process and decision making leads precisely to bad habits. Even more damaging, it leads to bad habits that we believe to be winning moves. If we think the way we played a hand is correct, we are unable to see the ways in which we could (or should) improve it. Bringing us back to why it is essential to have someone else evaluate your game for you. They offer a different perspective to see holes in our games that we've created through repetition of moderately winning to moderately losing lines.

Below is the hand taken from the daily High Rollers Tournament on 888 which inspired the discussion:

#Game No : 106203917

***** Cassava Hand History for Game 106203917 *****

$200/$400 Blinds No Limit Holdem - *** 02 02 2011 18:36:30

Tournament #29606697 $100 + $9 - Table #9 (Real Money)

Seat 2 is the button

Total number of players : 6

Seat 1: gnorma ( $3,656 )

Seat 2: snusman ( $12,145 )

Seat 4: letmeseeit ( $18,446 )

Seat 6: aaronlt ( $19,116 )

Seat 7: dece123 ( $4,351 )

Seat 9: xBARALHONEx ( $5,549 )

letmeseeit posts small blind [$200]

aaronlt posts big blind [$400]

The history: I had been at this table for about 40 hands, and had thin notes on two of them, snusman and gnorma. Snusman was beginning to make a habit out of minimum raising the button, and letmeseeit was playing fairly loose/passive.

** Dealing down cards **

Dealt to aaronlt [ 8d, 8s ]

dece123 folds


gnorma folds

snusman raises [$800]

letmeseeit calls [$600]

aaronlt calls [$400]

My first mistake of the hand. I had fully intended on raising snusman the next time he min raised my big blind, but the flat call from the SB threw me off, and I reacted without taking my time to assess the hand. It was a perfect opportunity for a 3-bet. Playing too loose/passive out of big blind facing small raises is a significant hole in my game that I have to consciously and actively work on.

** Dealing flop ** [ 8h, 2c, Kh ]

letmeseeit checks

aaronlt bets [$1,800]

snusman calls [$1,800]

letmeseeit calls [$1,800]

I like my flop lead. Betting into the raiser could mean a number of things. I could have flopped a king from big blind and I'm trying to protect it. I could have flopped middle pair/limped with a mid pocket pair like 9s or 7s and am trying to win the pot here facing only 1 remaining opponent. I could also be leading out on a flush draw. So not only am I inflating the pot by leading here, I am also masking the huge strength of my hand. Being called twice should have instantly triggered me to a flush draw.

** Dealing turn ** [ Ad ]

letmeseeit checks

aaronlt checks

snusman checks

This street sparked the discussion. I saw the Ace hit the turn and I immediately thought “perfect!” I could now check, feigning fear of the ace, and further reinforcing the perception that I have a pair of kings. My opponent on the button, snusman the original raiser, would have to jump at the opportunity to bet this ace, whether he had it or not. If he doesn't have the ace, I check raise anyways and have maximized value out of an opponent without a hand. Or he has the ace, and he'll be put in a very difficult spot facing a significant check-raise.

This was my thought process. My critic said “I would have bet the turn 100%.” This in itself wasn't enough to convince me that I made a mistake. Next he said, “if your opponent hit the ace, he's going to at least call a turn bet.” It was such an obvious statement, but one that I hadn't even considered.

By leading the turn, I still offer my opponent the opportunity to represent the ace, only this time he has to do so in the form of a raise, not a lead bet. This means that when I re-raise, based on the size of the pot, I will be able to put him all in, and there is a very good chance he will call and be in rough shape for his tournament life.

Leading the turn offers potentially an even greater benefit. I've lead a king high flop from the blinds into a raiser, representing mostly a pair or a flush draw. Now by leading the ace on the turn, I am able to add confusion as to what I might be holding. Would I lead a pair of kings on an ace turn? Would I 2-shell, semi-bluff a flush draw into an ace? Was I bluffing the flop and hit the ace on the turn? Do I have a set? The more confusion you can create in your opponent, the more opportunity you give them to make a mistake.

I did not take advantage of these opportunities and the original raiser checked behind. Another sign that should have clued me into a possible flush draw. I figured him for the type of opponent who would jump at the chance to bet this ace, and when he opted for the free card, I should have realized that there was a high probability he was on a draw.

** Dealing river ** [ 6h ]

letmeseeit checks

aaronlt bets [$3,450]

snusman raises [$9,545]

letmeseeit folds

aaronlt calls [$6,095]

I make no justification for the river play. I said on the flop and again on the turn, I should have been keyed into a flush draw. This doesn't mean I should have folded my set, but I should have opted for a check/call line to control the pot size. Instead I tried to make a stopper lead bet, and then followed it up by yet another mistake and called the shove. Mostly because I had the SB on the flush draw, so when snusman shoved I was a bit thrown, and truthfully a bit angry.

** Summary **

snusman shows [ Th, 5h ]

aaronlt shows [ 8d, 8s ]

snusman collected [ $26,890 ]

I hope by revealing how poorly I can play a hand, I was able to demonstrate how a different point of view can illuminate alternatives you may have missed, and destructive patterns you may have fallen into. Luckily for me I ran well today, and despite making numerous poor decisions, and committing the cardinal sin of trying to fix a mistake by making another one, I was still able to final table the tournament and make a few bucks.

Plan Your Hand Ahead

If I was to tell you, "you need to think about how you're going to play each hand before you make a decision," you would probably roll your eyes at me. It seems painfully obvious that we need to plan how we want to play a hand ahead of time - but how many of us do it consistently.

Playing a hand without a clear goal in mind is mistake I see every time I sit at the table or discuss a hand on the forum. It's also a mistake that I'm guilty of as well.

To elaborate on my point of how common these mistakes can be, and often how subtle they are that we may not even notice, I want to outline 3 hands:

#Game No : 304335075
***** Cassava Hand History for Game 304335075 *****
$0.05/$0.10 Blinds No Limit Holdem - *** 23 01 2011 13:12:21
Table Daly City (Real Money)
Seat 4 is the button
Total number of players : 6
Seat 1: Karlitros_AA ( $2.92 )
Seat 2: Zerkakos ( $8.28 )
Seat 4: aaronlt ( $16.46 )
Seat 6: Tostig14 ( $14.19 )
Seat 7: biggirtha ( $20.02 )
Seat 9: Defendor525 ( $9.87 )
Tostig14 posts small blind [$0.05]
biggirtha posts big blind [$0.10]

** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to aaronlt [ Kd, Qh ]

Here we are dealt a KQ on the button. A hand that most of us would agree that we are going to play.

Defendor525 raises [$0.40]
Karlitros_AA folds
Zerkakos folds
aaronlt calls [$0.40]
Tostig14 folds
biggirtha folds

UTG raises 4x the blinds and the action folds to us. It would be perfectly acceptable to reraise here, but for the sake of commonality, we flat called the raise. Both blinds fold and we're heads up in position.

** Dealing flop ** [ 2c, Ad, Kh ]
Defendor525 bets [$0.80]
aaronlt calls [$0.80]

This flop best demonstrates the point I'm trying to make. Here we have flopped a good middle pair, and our opponent has lead out. It is entirely plausible that he has flopped a pair of Aces and we are in very bad shape. However, he could also be continuation betting, we simply can't know. So what do we do? We call the bet.

Why? Calling to see what our opponent will do on the turn is simply not a good enough answer. You need to have a clear concise plan for each and every action on each and every possible turn card. What will you do if the board pairs? If there is another 3, 4, 5 or T, J, Q to fill in straights? You make two pair? Three Kings? Air?

These decisions need to be made BEFORE you make the call on the flop. Or else they will lead to you losing more money on the turn and river.

** Dealing turn ** [ Ac ]
Defendor525 bets [$1.30]
aaronlt calls [$1.30]

The board pairs the ace on the turn and our opponent leads out again. Again, if he has an Ace, another bet makes perfect sense. However, we called on the flop, and if we were ahead then, we are still ahead, and if we were behind, we are still behind. Nothing has changed, therefore we must call again on the turn. A fold now would not justify having made the call on the flop.

** Dealing river ** [ 4h ]
Defendor525 checks
aaronlt bets [$2.57]
Defendor525 calls [$2.57]

The river is a relative brick unless he's holding 44. Our opponent now checks. This line does not match up with the line he has taken so far if he holds an Ace. It makes much more sense that our opponent has a mid pair 88-QQ or some kind of Kx hand and is opting for pot control. This means our hand is likely best and we can go for a bit of value here. If our opponent check-raises, we can assume he's probably got a full house.

** Summary **
aaronlt shows [ Kd, Qh ]
Defendor525 shows [ Jd, Ah ]
Defendor525 collected [ $9.78 ]

Our opponent calls and shows down a strong ace. I don't like his river action as it isn't consistent with his line, and he's showing fear of losing to hands that are very unlikely.

However, the damage has been done, and we lost almost half a buy-in because we didn't map our hand before we started playing.

#Game No : 304335777
***** Cassava Hand History for Game 304335777 *****
$0.05/$0.10 Blinds No Limit Holdem - *** 23 01 2011 13:17:42
Table Daly City (Real Money)
Seat 4 is the button
Total number of players : 5
Seat 1: winnerloc ( $10.27 )
Seat 2: Zerkakos ( $8.68 )
Seat 4: aaronlt ( $10 )
Seat 7: biggirtha ( $19.92 )
Seat 9: Defendor525 ( $15.46 )
biggirtha posts small blind [$0.05]
Defendor525 posts big blind [$0.10]
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to aaronlt [ 9d, Ah ]

Same deal as last time, we're dealt A9 on the button in a short handed game. Definitely a hand worth playing if the action suits us.

winnerloc folds
Zerkakos folds
aaronlt raises [$0.35]
biggirtha raises [$1.10]
Defendor525 folds
aaronlt calls [$0.80]

This happens far too often for my liking and is something I'm guilty of far too much as well. Here we have raised as we should, and the Small Blind has reraised us. This is a case of "he knows that I know that he knows that I know."

We've raised the button as we should, the SB knows that we're likely to be aggressive, so his re-raise doesn't necessarily mean quality. He could simply be defending his blinds. So instead of raising again, or conceeding to his defense, we stubbornly make the call...without a clear plan for future streets.

** Dealing flop ** [ 5h, 9h, Jd ]
biggirtha bets [$1.80]
aaronlt calls [$1.80]

Again we've flopped middle pair, and are facing a continuation bet. Our 3 betting opponent doesn't have to have hit any of that flop. It' not likely our opponent has a 5 or a 9, or even necessarily a Jack. Therefore the only real way we're behind at this point is if he holds TT QQ KK or AA. So we call.

** Dealing turn ** [ Qs ]
biggirtha bets [$4.50]
aaronlt folds

The turn does us no favours. It fills some streets, helps KQ and AQ get there, offers some straight draws. Worst of all, it doesn't slow our opponent down. We could have QJ, QT, T8, Any sort of Qxhh combination, and he fires into us again. At this point, we have to fold, not knowing whether or not our opponent is holding something huge, or if he is just continuing his aggressive "don't bully me" stance.

Not only have we failed to win this pot, we've failed to establish table dominance, given momentum to an opponent sitting behind us, and lost respect to the rest of thet able. Playing this hand passively without a clear plan for each street has been devastating to our game on many levels.

This last hand was taken from an Omaha session only because it explains one last point I'd like to stress.

#Game No : 78252259
***** Cassava Hand History for Game 78252259 *****
$0.50/$1 Blinds Pot Limit Omaha - *** 23 01 2011 14:00:00
Table Toronto (Real Money)
Seat 9 is the button
Total number of players : 6
Seat 1: KVOSK ( $131.41 )
Seat 2: m0nument ( $100 )
Seat 4: cristi8 ( $266.31 )
Seat 6: Joop123 ( $127.66 )
Seat 7: aaronlt ( $119.83 )
Seat 9: Luckysmy ( $117.48 )
KVOSK posts small blind [$0.50]
m0nument posts big blind [$1]
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to aaronlt [ 5h, 3h, 6h, 7c ]

We are in good position with a pretty good hand. It's fairly draw heavy, and while it's only single suited to the hearts, it's still better than nothing. It's worth thinking about playing, if for no other reason than our position, and hand strength is hidden.

cristi8 folds
Joop123 folds
aaronlt raises [$3.50]
Luckysmy folds
KVOSK calls [$3]
m0nument folds

It folds to us and we raise to take control of the hand and mask the strength of our hand. We are called once from SB and go into the flop Heads Up in position.

** Dealing flop ** [ 6c, 5d, 4c ]
KVOSK checks
aaronlt bets [$8]
KVOSK calls [$8]

We have flopped top two pair and the middle straight. The second nuts, and fairly certain to be the best hand in this spot. Our opponent checks, we bet the pot and he calls. At this point we are practically guaranteed to have the best hand as an opponent with 78xx would have reraised at this point given two clubs are on the board.

** Dealing turn ** [ Kh ]
KVOSK checks
aaronlt bets [$24]
KVOSK folds

Here is the point I want to make. The turn is a brick, the hand is unchanged. The action is the same as the flop, our opponent checks, we bet the pot again with our second nut straight. This time our opponent folds.

Why? He's getting the same price as he was on the flop, 2:1, so his odds of pulling on the next card are the same. Yes he had two chances to hit on the flop, but with 2:1 pot odds, the price wasn't correct then either.

What has happened, was our opponent made a poor call on the flop given the price and the odds "because it was cheap." He valued the $8 on the flop far less than he values the $24 on the turn.

The texture of the board is unchanged, the bet is unchanged, but the $$$ amount has changed and that is what has affected his decision.

He made a call on the flop based on what $ amount he was willing to lose, and a fold on the turn based on what $ he was willing to lose.

This is a clear example of how NOT to plan strategy of playing a hand on current and future streets, but also an example that FAR TOO MANY people are guilty of making.

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Do yourself a favour and check out these magazines! Especially issue #8 with an article from yours truly ;)

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Taking a Shot

Being a winning poker player is easy. Holding onto your money is an entirely different story. Bankroll management is what truly separates the grinders from the flash-in-the-pan winners. However, that isn't to say that taking a shot at the higher levels from time to time is a bad thing. You just have to make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons, and approaching the game with the right mindset.

What does it mean to “take a shot”?

When I say “take a shot,” I mean to play a tournament or a cash table that is beyond our proper bankroll management. For example, if your bankroll permits you to play $5 games and the occasional $10 game, you would be taking a shot if you registered for a $50 game. Obviously some shots would be more dramatic than others, say for example a $500 Aussi Millions Qualifier versus the Friday Deepstack Challenge at $30. There are two things above all else to consider when deciding whether or not to take a shot: The return on your investment, and the reasons for taking the shot.

The wrong reasons to take a shot:

Anger is a scary emotion for poker players, since it provides us with a sense of fearlessness that may otherwise prevent us from taking certain risks. This fear is what makes sure we are playing within our means, and throwing caution to the wind often ends in regret. So how do we combat this? Trying to convince yourself not to play a game because you're too angry (or on tilt) is absolutely futile. You need to set triggers for yourself ahead of time that let you know you are heading down that path, and to get out before you get there. A few examples would be a loss-limit or a time-limit.

Ambition is the last refuge of failure (Oscar Wilde). Ambition with intelligence and perseverance is a very powerful tool, which is exactly the opposite of taking a shot. The poker world is littered with people who thought they were as good or better than the people playing higher limits than themselves, who took their shots and failed. Sure, every once in awhile you will hear a success story, but they are few and far between.

Boredom can lead us to do many ill-advised things. Moving up the poker ladder is certainly one of them. I'm reminded of a situation that once took place where I saw a regular $2 SnG player sitting up at the $200 tables. I asked this person why they were making such a drastic jump. They told me, “I like to treat myself every once in awhile.” I was shocked! A sit n go tournament costing $2 and a tournament costing $200 are not even the same game. They may both be poker, but the players are playing two entirely different games. If you're bored, and you feel like you have $200 to blow, spend it on your family or friends. Buy some new furniture or take a weekend trip. You will come back feeling fulfilled, rather than kicking yourself the next morning for wasting 100 buy-ins on a 20 minute entertainment binge.

The right reasons to take a shot:

Winning an unexpected tournament can often lead to a lot of cash. Some people like to cash this money out, while other people like to reinvest it into their bankrolls to help their poker account grow. Another option is to take a percentage of these winnings (so that you still have some profit even if you lose), and take a shot at a higher limit game.

Perhaps you are normally rolled for regular $1/2 No Limit play ($200 buy in games). During 888's Sunday Challenge, you win the 50k and take home $11 000 for first place. You decide to cash out some out, reinvest some into your bankroll, and take $2000 of your winnings to the $5/10 table ($1000 buy-in). This way if you lose while taking your shot, you're still well up on your tournament win.

You have a successful win rate at your current limits, and feel it is time to move up the ladder. Win rate is determined by big bets per 100 hands played. This means if you are a regular $1/2 Limit player, the big bet is $4. A successful win-rate is anything over 2 BB/100 hands. That means at $1/2, you would be playing well if you are winning $8 every 100 hands.

When is it time to move up? While it may mean you are doing well winning 2 BB/100 hands, you're not dominating that limit by any means. If you are beginning to average 4 or 5 BB/100 hands, you probably have a firm grip on the limit you are playing, and taking a shot isn't a bad idea. Remember though, that you need to have a significant sample size of hands played before these numbers are accurate. Winning 6 Big Bets after your first 100 hands, doesn't mean anything as to how well equipped you are to move up the ladder. You will need several (tens) of thousands of hands before you can get accurate results.

Managing Expectations

When taking a shot it is important to still have goals and especially stop loss limits. This does not apply so much to tournaments, since once you register, you're in until the end. However in cash play, you definitely need to set your rules ahead of time.

How much do you want to win?

How much can you stand to lose?

How long do you want to play for?

Playing outside of your bankroll will absolutely affect how you play hands. You may not be willing to play a hand as aggressively as you normally would because you don't want to risk the chips. Or you may change your starting hand requirements entirely. The longer you stay at the table, the deeper your stack will become, and these negative affects on your game will become multiplied.

The best way to avoid this, is to make sure you know when to quit. If you sit down at a $1000 table with the intention of making it to $3000, you get up and leave at or near that $3000 mark. If you get to $3500 and start to push for more money, the consequence will be devastating should you lose it all.

Alternatively, it's important to remember losing is a possibility, and it will happen. When it happens, it's important not to get bogged down by the “would've, could've, should've” and just take it for what it is, a missed shot.

Healthy Body Healthy Mind

I wanted to talk a bit about this since it is a topic that keeps coming up in poker circles I'm a part of - the link between a healthy lifestyle and success at the poker tables.

It's a difficult topic for alot of people to truly wrap their heads around. Obviously I think most people would admit to a healthy mind healthy body connection. However for poker players especially, there is a certain lifestyle that comes with the territory that definitely does not promote healthy living.

Long tournaments both online and live, mean that players are tied to the table and unable to be active, or take the time necessary to prepare a healthy meal. Be honest, how many people associate a good long night at the computer with some take-out and a case of beer ;) I know I'm guilty of it!

I think many people would be surprised at some of the routines that the most successful players have. Whether it's getting a proper 8 hours of sleep, or consistently working out 5 times a week.

A few guidelines to try to stick too to make sure poker isn't having a negative affect on your health (and your bankroll):

- Make sure you're getting a solid 6-8 hours sleep (I personally can't function on less than 10 :P). As well, the more consistent you can be with the hours you do sleep, the better for you.

- Eat 5 meals a day. Lots of veggies and lots of water. Making sure you eat often will prevent you from starving and binging. As well, you should try not to eat 4 hours before bed.

- Obviously physical activity every day is a must. For the casual player this isn't such a big deal as they have jobs and are out taking care of their day-to-day chores. However for the poker grinders out there, sittin around playing cards IS our day-to-day chores. So we need to make a conscious effort to get out and do something physical. (20 minute High Intensity Cardio or 45-60 mins of Low Intensity Cardio should be good enough).

- Be social. Get out, have fun. Lots more to life than a poker score ;)

Pot Control - Devil's Advocate

In the previous Pot Control article, I highlighted a number of benefits that come from controlling the size of the pot. Controlling the size of the pot is just another way of saying "limit the betting." Here I would like to point out a few drawbacks of limiting the betting and playing hands slowly.


Three Betting (for the purpose of this discussion a 3-bet is the second raise - or first reraise), is a very valuable tool that is often misused or more specifically underused.

Too many players get by only 3-betting their big hands, AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK. While this can work, since many players in a large MTT (multi table tournament), aren't really paying attention to your 3 betting rate, anybody using pokertracker can see instantly that when you 3-bet, it means a monster.

If you only reraise when you have a huge hand preflop, it makes it very easy for players to make big folds against you. I will happily fold top pair with a good kicker against an opponent who has 3-bet me preflop with a tight range and continues to show aggression on the flop.

Continuation Bets

We all know about continuation bets. The follow-up bet on any flop after you have raised preflop.

Nowadays it's harder to get away with a c-bet. Many players will check-raise you if they suspect you of c-betting as you can't possibly call a check-raise without having a huge hand. As well, players like to float continuation bets (check/calling the bet), with hopes of stealing it from you on a later street when you eventually show weakness.

However, if we open our 3-betting range preflop and reraise a wider variety of hands, we will often be playing in larger pots post-flop. Therefore when we eventually get around to making our continuation bet, the bet is so much larger than it would have been without a 3-bet, that we will take down the pot uncontested more often. As well, we will be winning a larger pot.

Take this hand for example:

You have 99 on the button. with a 5000 stack and the blinds are 50/100.

Your opponent raises in middle position. He is an active player, so we know that our 99 is very likely to be ahead of his range.

He opens the pot and raises to 300.

We decide to reraise and make it 825.

Everyone else folds, and our opponent calls.

The flop is- A T 5 (not a particularly good flop for our hand).
(1800 chips in the pot)

Our opponent checks, and we follow up with an 1100 bet.

Our opponent is looking at 2900 in the pot, and if he was to make any kind of attempt to push us off of a c-bet, it would cost him alot of chips to do so, not an easy feat. He would more or less HAVE to have a big hand to make a move here. As well, we reraised him preflop, so us holding a hand like AK is very much a possibility.

Our opponent folds, and we add a healthy pot to our stack.

As an added benefit, we can often push out better hands in scenerios like this, say for example our opponent had JJ. He would have a very difficult decision here out of position, and it would not be unusual for us to win the pot with an inferior hand.

Obviously though, this is all very opponent dependant. If your villain is the type of player to raise A7, call a raise, and then not fold when he flops an ace, we would probably want to approach this type of flop with a bit more caution.

Taking the same hand and applying pot control methods:

Our opponent raises to 300, and we make the call. Big Blind also calls since it's only costing him 200 more to see a 750 pot.

AT5 flop, and now we have two opponents to worry about having an ace.

BB checks and our opponent continuation bets 600 chips.

Here you can see the slippery slope that attempting pot control can put you on. If we smooth call this 600 to test the honesty of our opponent, we are building quite a large pot with a very marginal hand. If our opponent decides to bet again on the turn, we still haven't learned anything and it will cost us alot more to get to the river.

For arguments sake say we call the 600 on the flop, and 1100 on the turn (more or less the same amount of chips we spent in the original example).

Our opponent checks a King river.

Bluffing here would be very very risky. We opted for pot-control so we could showdown our hand. Taking a stab at the pot now opens us up to check-raises and hero calls with a pair of tens+. So we check the river, and as in the first example, our opponeng shows JJ but this time we lose the pot.

There is a time and a place to control the pot, but playing slowly, doesn't always mean you're playing cautiously. Many players can develop very poor call-station habits from approaching the game with this method in mind. More often than not, aggression can actually be safer than passivity. In any given full table MTT, I probably only use an obvious pot-control technique to get to showdown once, MAYBE twice a tournament (barring the final table).

The best defense is a good offense.

Note the Thought Process, Not the Results

I wanted to talk briefly about note-taking, and general observation of your opponents.

In poker, the player with the most accurate information has the advantage in any given scenerio. To gain the informational edge, a player must know their maths, know themselves (their table image as perceived by others), and they must know their opponent (being able to put yourself in other people's shoes).

I wanted to talk a bit about the third part, knowing your opponent. I could write endlessly about all three of these topics, so this is by no means a complete overview, just a small bit of advice that was brought to my attention during a session yesterday.

Yesterday played more or less like any other day. I was registered in a number of tournaments ranging from $5 buyins to $100 games (along with some omaha cash games on the side).

The first few tournaments ended relatively quickly, which is why I entered the Omaha games, to keep myself busy and see if I could recover some of the tournament fees I had spent on the day.

I eventually came across the $5/$1000 Guaranteed game that starts 16:45 EST (21:45 for most of you across the pond). During this game I was dealt a number of hands that are my favourite to play; hands with combo draws in a raised pot, such as a straight and a flush draw, or a pair and a flush draw.

One of the first of these was 8c9c and I was up against forum member Shinyone. The flop was Tc 8h 3c. In this scenerio, if I don't already have the best hand, I have 9 outs to my flush and another 5 outs to make two pair or three-of-a-kind. So I'm looking at a potential 14 out hand - a hand very worthy of playing. (As I type this sentence a player shoved his KQs into my AQ on an Ac Ts 6s flop...had to dodge alot of outs!)

Anyways, as the hand played out, we ended up all in, which I will often hope for on the flop. I will play these hands aggressively, so that I either win them on the spot, or I can get it in at almost even money with a good shot at winning. As it turned out, Shiny had T9, so he took away 3 of my outs, but I still managed to hit one of the other 11.

(It's not an exact science, but I always typically go by 13 outs on the flop is equal to a coin flip. It helps to make decisions easier for those who aren't mathematically inclined).

Shiny made a comment about how I was running good, which I'm more than happy to let the table hear. Having the table think I'm running good will make them believe 1) That I'm playing poorly and have to get lucky to win, or 2) The newer players may be afraid to push their luck against someone who is running good.

Soon after that hand I was involved in another combo draw pot. This time I was against two opponents and the flop was 568 with two clubs. I had QcTc for two overcards and a flush draw.

IF all my outs are live here, I'm looking at 15 outs, 6 for top pair and 9 for a flush. However against two opponents willing to go all-in, it is very unlikely that all of my outs are live. As the hand played out, the two opponents both had monster hands. One player had flopped the straight, and the other one had 88 for top set of 8s. As strong as these hands are, I still have 8 outs on the flop against these behemoth hands. It would have been much worse for me if one of these players were on the A high or K high flush draw. I made my flush, and took down a very large pot.

Now both of these scenerios I had a high potential number of outs, however as it turned out, both times I had taken a hit and run into hands that killed a few of them. In the eyes of the opponents I was making lucky draws, however as explained here, you can see how I could have been as much as the favourite with a hand that has 15 potential outs, and at very worst, likely to have 8 outs.

However my intention isn't to talk about Combo Draws ;) Just to illustrate the point that the result of the hand isn't what you should be taking note of. It's the thought process behind your opponents decisions, not how the hand turned out.

Just because your opponent turns over 24 offsuit which is the only hand that beats your top set of aces, doesn't mean he's a donkey for playing rags. Another example that took place only 30 minutes ago:

#Game No : 75965443
***** Cassava Hand History for Game 75965443 *****
$15/$30 Blinds No Limit Holdem - *** 12 05 2010 17:48:09
Tournament #27133527 $20 + $2 - Table #14 (Real Money)
Seat 4 is the button
Total number of players : 8
Seat 1: aaronlt ( $1,625) If it is early in a tournament, I always try to note why a player has a below average stack. Sometimes it's because he was unlucky, but often if it is early enough, you will find that a player who is short early is playing too loose. In this case I had reraised an aggressive player preflop with 99 on the button, and SB 4 bet the hand. I folded, SB had Kings. So while it may appear I am spewing chips early, my stack is a result of a disciplined fold.
Seat 2: toucan15 ( $3,220 )
Seat 3: LegarthAA ( $5,040 )
Seat 4: woodgateroo ( $1,925 )
Seat 5: Gifhorn1 ( $2,430 )
Seat 6: ChrisF10 ( $1,970 )
Seat 9: juano210 ( $1,970 )
Seat 10: zuzzu16 ( $1,670 )
Gifhorn1 posts small blind [$15]
ChrisF10 posts big blind [$30]

** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to aaronlt [ 7h, Kh ]
juano210 folds
zuzzu16 folds
aaronlt raises [$90] - I'm in middle position here and the table has been playing relatively passive. I like raising hands like this as they really don't commit me to any kind of flop where I put my money in behind (such has QT on a Q high flop). Here we know what we have and we know we're probably going to need to play it fast to win the pot.
toucan15 calls [$90]
LegarthAA folds
woodgateroo folds
Gifhorn1 folds
ChrisF10 folds

** Dealing flop ** [ 7d, 3h, Kd ]
aaronlt bets [$180] - We bet this spot here because I would likely be betting this flop whether I hit it or not. So I want my continuation bets to look the same as they would when I flop a monster.

toucan15 raises [$360]
aaronlt raises [$1,355] - I choose not to slow play here because of the possible flush draw, as well as the number of cards that could fill his 2 pair to beat me where I can't get away from the hand. Such as a J on the turn to fill his KJ, I would have no way to know if he hit, and would have to pay him off. As well, Because I'm a bit short in chips, he may be more likely to call an all in with a weak king like K9 or KT.

toucan15 calls [$1,175]

** Dealing turn ** [ Qc ]
** Dealing river ** [ 2c ]
** Summary **

aaronlt shows [ 7h, Kh ]
toucan15 shows [ Ad, Ah ]
aaronlt collected [ $3,295 ]

I've posted this hand and the thought process behind the decisions to give you an insight into why each decision was made.

How many times have you heard a friend, or even said yourself "Some donkey played his K7 and cracked my Aces! Does he think because it's suited it's a great hand!?!?!"

Sound familiar? If my opponent reviews this hand according to the results and not the thought process (Him losing AA to K7), he is going to seriously misrepresent me in his notes. A mistake that may cost him greatly in the future.

For The Forum - Pot Control (2008)

For the next entry of For the Forum, I've been asked to discuss Pot Control. I wrote an article about this topic a couple years ago, and for the most part it is still relevant. However, there are some issues that I would like to address in the article, being that it is 2010 and I've had a couple years to reflect on the topic. So for this entry we'll look back at the original article, and next entry I'll try to respond to it.

By now most everyone should be familiar with such terms as pot odds and bankroll management.

But how many people consider pot control when they are playing?

Perhaps you do and you haven't realized it.

Pot Control or Management (or another term you may wish to use) is when you as a player involved in a hand, take control of the size of the pot.

What is important to know before learning about Pot Control?

Pot odds.

Any educated poker player knows that when determining whether or not to chase a draw, you compare the amount of chips you will win to the % of times you will hit your draw (short explanation).

The other important factor necessary for consideration when chasing a draw is implied odds. Implied odds are calculated into how many extra chips you will win should you hit your draw.

Lastly and most importantly for this topic is Reverse Implied Odds. This takes place when it is likely you have the best hand, but you have little or no chance to improve your holdings against your opponent (another short explanation).

Why would I want to Control the size of the pot?

Good question! Why wouldn't you want every pot to be as big as possible!?


You are early in the 80k. The blinds are still 10/20 and you are on your original starting stack of 2500.

Player A has been playing very aggressive and has already worked his way up to 6000 chips.

You are in big blind with AJs and its folded to Player A who raises from middle position to 100.

It's folded to you and you decide not to let him push you around and call.

The flop comes J Q 4 rainbow.

Your action?

Well you have a few options here:

1) you could perform a stop-and-go, bet out infront of the raiser. Essentially scaring him off any hand that doesn't have a QQ or better in it.

However with mr. aggressive as our opponent, we should consider option 2.

2) We check. Why do we check?

by checking you

a) allow your opponent to act before you commit chips to the pot giving yourself more information

b) you keep the pot size at 210.

Why is it important to keep the pot at 210?

Here we have flopped a strong middle pair of jacks against an aggressive opponent. It is likely that he will bet this flop regardless of whether or not he has improved. Which means there is a good chance we have the best hand.

However in marginal situations as this, it may not be profitable long term to "bet" our best hand.

By keeping the pot at 210, we force our opponent into an action relative to the small pot we have created. His bet will likely be somewhere between 150-210.

Whereas if we were to perform a stop-and-go and our opponent was to raise, his raise would likely be somewhere between 400-750.

As you can see, calling a 150 bet with our middle pair is a much easier decision then calling off a quarter of our stack.

Now on the turn we will be faced with the same set of decisions, this time however if we check and our opponent still hasn't improved, he may decide to check behind for fear of his bluff being called a second time. This will allow us to bet out on a safe river and take down a medium size pot relatively risk free.

After all, another term for pot control is risk management.

Can I control the pot size from any position?

Controlling the pot size can definitely be done from any position at the table.

However it is important remember that like most things in poker, pot control is not 100% withing our control.

It is critical to pay attention to your position at the table while trying to maintain control of the pot size.

Consider our scenerio before:

Early in the 80k, you're in big blind with a starting stack of 2500 with 10/20 blinds.

This time Player A has raised but small blind has called the 100 raise as well.

So now the pot is 300 and the flop is J Q 4 rainbow and you hold AJs.

This time Small blind bets out 100.

According to our previous discussion on pot control it may be wise to flat call here as to not build a large pot before we know if we are committed to it.

However this time we are not last to act. Our aggressive player is still behind us.

While we may like to call here to put a little pressure on the small blind, a call will invite the aggressive Player A to attempt a squeeze play even if he's missed the flop and raise us in the middle.

Once he raises behind us, we pretty much have to give up on this hand, having thrown away an extra 100 because we did not consider our position in the table.

How do I know when to check/call to keep control of the pot and when to raise?

This will come with practice. Sometimes it is profitable to raise your marginal hands and push your opponent off any potential draws. Other times it is better to check/call so that "looking your opponent up" does not cost too much.

If you are unsure about where you stand in a hand against an opponent, it is probably better to attempt pot control while the blinds are still small. Once the blinds become large, keeping control of the pot becomes more difficult and more raises are necessary.

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