Phil Hellmuth recently won his 14th WSOP bracelet in the $10,000 RAZZ event. He’s a controversial figure in the poker world for sure. Despite what you think of Phil, he has won 14 bracelets. I saw that he was heads up on WSOP.com, so I grabbed my iPad and opened up the live stream. WSOP.com has been live-streaming final tables on their website in recent years, and if you’ve ever tuned in and watched a live final table, one of your first realizations is most likely: “Wow, they fold a lot. This is kinda boring.”
Now flip over to an edited version of the WSOP Main Event.
Pretty exciting, right? You get to see everyone’s hole cards, they jump back and forth between tables, there are player profiles and stats on the screen. Sometimes Norman Chad crafts a funny joke. Sometimes. (Insert Norman saying, “Good for you.”) They basically do what good television editors do: edit out the boring stuff.
If you are a recreational poker player and have watched a lot of poker television, it can sometimes warp your sense of reality when you’re at the table. When you’re watching poker on TV, it seems like there are always big hands, you’re seeing a bunch of flops, and someone gets it all in with pocket Kings versus pocket Aces on a regular basis.
Reality is much more boring.
Boredom and discipline are constant battles for many people at the poker table. There will be long stretches of time where you fold almost every hand. You will have opponents that seem to take forever to make every decision. You will play against people who don’t pay attention, and ask if “it’s on me?” seemingly every time it’s their turn to act.
It can be maddening.
If you allow yourself to get frustrated and angry, your play will suffer. You might start to push the action. You might start to play hands that you know you shouldn’t play. Then you get into some really marginal spots where you have to make tough decisions. Most of the time, things end poorly and you lose a lot of chips. Many times, you end up crippling yourself by playing a “stupid hand” and you’re out of the tournament.
That really hurts.
That’s the reason we created our free hand range e-book. I hope that you downloaded it and put it on your phone in your favorite reader. iBooks on the iPhone works great. The cool thing is that you can look at it between hands (when you’ve folded for the millionth time in a row.)
If you’ve been playing poker for a while, you might think that you know these ranges by heart. It’s more likely that you sneak in marginal hands out of boredom a lot. If you’ve been folding for the past 45 minutes, then wake up with QTo, it can feel like the nuts. Now this is a perfectly reasonable hand to play in late position when it has folded to you, but it is a hand that can get you in trouble too.
For example, the problems start when someone has opened in early position, and then you call in middle position with a hand like QTo. It seems like a playable hand. You hear people say all the time, “I haven’t seen two Broadway cards all day” after they’ve lost a big pot with this exact type of hand.
So why does it play so badly? Why should I fold this hand?
If the player in early position is a competent player, his opening range has you crushed. He has a lot of big Aces and a lot of pocket pairs in his range. Almost all of the Queens that he is opening with have you beat: AQ, KQ, QQ, QJ. So even when you flop top pair, if the pot is starting to get really big, you are beat a lot of the time.
By flat calling, you are telling the players left to act behind you that you have exactly the type of hand that you actually have. You might as well just say, “I have a marginal hand. I’m just going to flat call. I really want to see a flop guys, so nobody re-raise please.” What do you do if the button makes a big re-raise? Do you really want to call and be out of position in a pot that’s quickly growing big?
You might think, “Well, I’ll three-bet and push everyone out behind me.” Building a big pot preflop in this spot with this type of hand is really dangerous territory. Refer to point number one. Even when you flop top pair, it’s really easy to be beat when your opponent is ready to play for stacks.
What’s your plan? This is the type of hand that gets played all the time without a plan. It just looked like a good hand, you toss out some chips and hope for the best. Hoping you flop two pair or better does not a plan make. Let’s think about a few flops and how they play.
KT3 rainbow flop. Cool, middle pair. He checks, you bet half pot, he calls. Does he have a King? A bigger Ten? Set of threes? Gutshot draw? A 7 hits the turn. He checks, you bet again, and he check raises you. Now what do you do?
792 two of a suit flop. OK, you have two overs, but not two big overs. This time, he leads for ¾ the pot. What does that mean? Seems like over pairs and sets could definitely be in his range. But why would he lead out? Maybe he has a hand like AKs and is trying to take it down right now with the nut flush draw. What happens if I raise here? What hand am I representing?
Fold the QTo in this spot. Pick up your phone, look at the hand ranges, and think about what type of hands would play well for this situation.
Once you start thinking in ranges instead of exact hands, your play will improve dramatically.
What are the things you do when you’re card dead to stay in the game?