My column will be taking a slight change in direction over the next few months, I will still be providing my usual shitty.. I mean witty... comments, on my week to week poker adventures, but they will be monthly instead of fortnightly and these will now be complemented by a more serious look at ways to improve your poker game - a sort of "free lesson`s" for all you lucky readers.
First off we will take a look at one of the most important decisions you will have to make if you wish to be a successful poker player i.e. a long term winner.
Cash or tournament?
It`s a tough choice. Sure they are both poker games, but I`m afraid that is for the most part where the similarity ends. The disciplines and skills required to be successful at cash games are far different from the skills required to be a top tournament player, so which is it to be? Well over the coming weeks we will be taking a look at the various aspects of both these poker disciplines and that may help you decide which one you are best suited to.
Let me first start off by telling you that very few players ...even the big names and stars of the poker world... are adept at both cash and tournament`s alike. Sure a few are, but that`s the exception not the norm. Most of the top boys excel at one but are actually quite weak at the other. In fact in many cases if they just avoided their weakest discipline they would be far better off financially, but Ego - at least in some cases - just won`t let them. We.. that is you and me... don`t have that problem, we have no egos to feed, just hungry mouths, so we have to get it right or we go hungry.. it's as simple as that! Well that may be a little over dramatic but I`m sure you get the idea.
So lets start the series with a look at what it takes to be successful at....
1) GAME SELECTION.
One of the main differences between cash games and tournaments, whether it`s live games or internet based, is the fact that you can choose who you play against. In tournaments you don`t have that luxury, your table is assigned for you. Having the option to choose your opponents is of major importance, so a decision on what game to play in and at what stakes to play is a decision not to be made lightly. Take time to assess all the options, it could well be the most important decision of the session.
First off make sure the game you choose is suitable for your bankroll, i.e. you are comfortable with the stakes being played for. Always choose a game where you wont be under any financial pressure. The stakes you play for should always mean something to you, so don`t just play for pennies as this wont help your game at all, it`s for the most part pointless. The stakes have to be meaningful to make you concentrate. Playing in a game that is too low for you is as bad, if not worse, than playing in one that is too high for your bankroll and ability. In the former you will develop bad habits and learn nothing, in the latter at least you will possibly learn a few expensive lessons!
Once you have decided what level you are comfortable with then look at the players around the table, try to identify how well or not they play. A good way to do this is to check out the quality of hands they play and from what position. Look at the hands they turn over in a "showdown", then ask yourself, would you have played that hand from that position? If the answer is no, then... you have spotted your first "Fish". Repeat this procedure for the whole table. Identify the weak and strong players, then decide if this is the game for you.
On the internet it is also essential to keep player notes, so start off as you mean to go on. Keep notes and review and update them at each session.
Your time spent on game and player selection will be well rewarded in the long run. The essence of being a winning cash player is to find weaker opponents than yourself and to play against them. Playing against opponents that are equal or better than you (other than to occasionally gauge your own game) serves no purpose as you have no "Edge", and all successful gambling is based on having an "Edge" or advantage over your competitors.
A very important point to remember here is to be totally honest with yourself. Never, ever over-estimate your own ability, and never under-estimate your opponents.
So, you have found a game now what?
When you initially take a seat in a cash game (unless it`s starting fresh) you probably won't have a say as to where you sit, but after a short time assess your table position relative to the other players and look to change to a favourable seat as soon as possible. But, how do you know which should be a favourable seat?, I hear you ask. As a rough guide have tough or tricky players to your immediate right and your "fish" and predictable players to your left. Why? Well on most betting rounds the tough players will act before you, giving you at least a small clue as to the type of hand they have and the weak and predictable players will act after you so their moves will be easier to read and combat.. not too many nasty surprises to over come!
Choosing your seat in this way should eliminate some of the tough decisions you would have to face if you acted before the tougher players, but should also allow you to make the odd move to trap them because quite often the fish to your left will create action forcing the other players into your trap and not vice-versa.
Games can change very quickly... especially online, so keep checking the game stats, pot size, number of players per flop and relative percentages. If the stats start to look bad be on the lookout for a better game, regardless of whether you`re winning or losing. If the game turns sour move on.
Obviously this is not a guaranteed way to profit, but over the long run choosing your seat carefully will give you an edge and as you now know every small edge you have adds to your chance of success.
This is all too easy - we have found a game, we have a favourable seat and...... now all we have to do is make some money! To do that we will need..
3) PATIENCE AND DISCIPLINE.
One of the most important traits of a good cash player is discipline. Of all the ways there are of destroying your bankroll discipline or to be more precise "lack of " is by far the quickest. I`m not going to lecture you on starting hands in various positions as that will vary as to the type of player you are... or aspire to be, but what I will say is generally play strong hands from poor or early position and weak or speculative hands from late position... as a guideline only. Most decent poker books will give you an idea as to what hands play best from what position.
What I am going to lecture you on is patience, don`t waste your effort with half-hearted attempts to win pots. First off try to get a feel for how the game is playing and also who is winning and who is losing.
A quick note here: Sometimes even tough and experienced players play badly if they get a few bad beats, so be on the lookout for a "Rock" that is cracking.
Choose your hands carefully and try to come up with the most profitable way to play them.Your main aim should be not to waste any "Ammo". You don`t get any prizes for just playing large numbers of pots, always ask yourself why am I playing this pot? If you can`t find a reason as to why then you shouldn't be in it! Whatever the reason, be it a slightly weak hand or poor position etc.etc, then it should be pretty obvious that it is time to wait. Don`t be tempted just because others are.. What are you a poker player or a lemming?
The first mistake is always the cheapest, it gets more costly from there on in so... If in doubt.. get out!
Hopefully these three tips will have opened your mind a little as to what is required to be a winner at the game. I will no doubt be referring back to some of these points later on in the series and when these points come up and you think... didn`t he mention that before? Well the answer is probably Yes, and the reason? Because it`s an important point that`s worth mentioning over and over until it sinks in!
Your "Homework" exercise for this month is to start practicing your game selection. Start by spending a few minutes checking out the various games you intend to play in, make a few player notes and give them a rating 1-10 (1 = Fish, 10 = Pro). Check out a few games at the higher limits, identify the better players and take a look at how they play certain hands. The quickest and easiest way to improve you game is to copy someone who`s already got a winning formula.
Next month we will take a look at money management and styles of play. In the meantime, repeat after me... practice makes perfect.
Until next time,
Stay safe, play well and.....enjoy your poker.