Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Choosing the Right Virtual Table

All the poker books point out the value of choosing a profitable (or "hot") table. I totally agree, but it will get your night off to a slow start. It takes some time to play spectator in order to see the skill and aggression levels of your potential opponents. That's what's nice about on-line table selection, I have some tips to speed up the process.

Before you start playing, most poker sites have a display of available tables. Each table often includes stats such as the number of seats available, how many seats are taken, the number of players on the waiting list, the stakes and the average pot size. Average pot size is very important and one stat that you can't immediately gain by visiting a table in a casino.

You should, by now, know thyself. If you play your best game shorthanded, stay at the tables with a max. player limit--usually six. If you're best heads-up, there are table for that too. On-line is great for options. Are you a tournament player who usually either goes out first or wins it all? Then you are probably aggressive enough to be suited for a "turbo" game where the blinds raise quickly. If you like to wait for the really good hands, stay as far from turbo as possible. Some sites even have games with extended blind levels, those may be more your speed.

Another factor for aggression is average pot size. For easy money, an aggressive player should steal the blinds of the table with the smallest pot sizes relative to their blinds. A tight player should sit at the table with the highest pot sizes so that when you do get your hand, you can win big. This strategy probably won't be the most fun for either player type, but it will be the most profitable.

The time of day can also be a factor. I have found that European players are overall a different skill level as US players and through the magic of time zones they play when we sleep. I'm not saying which countries host the most skilled...but I have my theories.

Keep in mind, that just because the table stats say one thing, doesn't mean that will hold true forever. Don't base future play on that early information. A aggressive table can quickly turn tight in the event that the bully loses his chips and is replaced. I'm just saying...test the waters before you jump in.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bid Poker

I've always liked bid poker for the new strategy element it brings to the game. The game starts with an ante followed by the deal--five cards down to each player. Players review their hands and the dealer reveals one card in the center of the table. The player left of the dealer has the option of placing a bid on the card or passing. Action moves to left with each subsequent player either raising the bid or passing. Once all but one player has passed, that player pays his bid to the pot and takes the won card. He then discards to keep his card count at five. The same process continues until every player has had the first shot at an auctioned card. Finally we have the traditional poker hand of bet/raise/fold/showdown.

The pots can get large if players pay top dollar in the bidding process. The advantage is if you start off with trash, you can pass on the bidding, fold, and only lose your ante. I don't generally recommend bluffing in this game since hands have the potential of being very strong come the showdown. It is important to pay attention to what your opponents are bidding on and know whether to get out of their way and stop them from making their hand.

There may be a time when you should outbid an opponent for a card you don't need just to stop them from having a monster. For example, you have a strong full house--three aces and two tens, and your opponent has already bought a king and is bidding on another king. At this point you know the last king probably made him trips or a full house, which your hand trumps, but this new king would give him four-of-a-kind. This is when the game can get nasty since both you and your opponent are willing to spend a small fortune bidding on the card. There is a lot to think about, but in a different way then most poker variations, and that's why I like bid poker.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tell Study: The Shakes

Tells are the little ticks people have that leak information; the more we can identify, the more we can both hide and exploit that all-important info. I will break them down right here, one by one.

The first tell to which I’ve turned my attention are shaky hands. It is a common misconception that shaky hands are a sign of fear. Players do the fear math and assume Mr. Shaky has a weak hand. Therefore, any bet is a bluff.
The opposite is likely true. Players never make the decision to bluff when scared. True, they may become scared if they believe you may call their bluff, but that is after it has been made. The shaking hands were likely noticed as the chips were moved into the table. As a rule, shaking means strong, not weak.

You have probably heard this before, I know I have. Many poker books speculate that shaking is the sign of a monster hand. While this is a much sounder assumption than fear, I have a bit more to add.

I’ll go ahead and admit, this tell affects me. Like most tells, it is a subconscious occurrence. Unlike many, it isn’t one that can be easily controlled once identified. Imagine getting a stubborn case of hiccups at the table, it just kinda has to run its course. Because of this, I’ve played very close attention to when it happens. The good news? I don’t give away as much information as I thought.

My hands shake when I have the most at risk. It happens when I have a significant portion of my chips on the line, whether I have the nuts or I am bluffing my ass off. Further analysis shows:

  • I am usually the aggressor

  • The temperature is usually cold

  • The risk is a function of relative chip stack and completely independent of whether or not the chips represent hundreds of dollars or nothing at all

  • Early Parkinson's may be setting in (but I hope not)

My opponents already know when I'm risking most my chips and am playing aggressive, so if that is all that can be summized from my wavering paws, my net information loss is zero. It is important for you to keep in mind that while you may perceive something as a tell, it may mean nothing. Inversely, it is important that I keep in mind that while I have found causes for my "tell," they may not be the only causes.

I recognize that I have tells. We all do. As soon as I recognize and understand mine, I'll be sure that you and my other possible opponents will be the last to know. If you have had any noteworthy experiences with tells, please feel free to leave them in the comments.