Not long ago, I had the pleasure of co-hosting a poker gathering at my house in Las Vegas. We convened not for the typical revelry of card-playing and socializing, but at the request of poker champion Vanessa Selbst, to take part in a coaching session she would lead as a preparatory Final Table simulation for eventual World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Jesse Sylvia.
Scott — I’ve been spending a lot of my poker hours playing tournaments. I am extremely confident in my ability and would say that my game is fundamentally sound. But I’m still interested in learning, and I’m aware that in tournaments, there are many instances in which decisions and strategy are not based on those fundamentals.
I recently participated in a poker training session with a fairly accomplished student — let's call him "Dave" — and my co-coach, 2006 World Series of Poker Player of the Year Jeff Madsen. Three-handed, with Dave on the button, we ran into a perfect illustration of the value of position in poker.
Schedule flexibility and being your own boss are two major advantages to playing poker for a living. However, once you’ve entered a tournament, your control over working hours has ceased, and you’re locked into being there during established hours of play.
Position is very important in poker, and in some other table games as well. The opportunity to make decisions after opponents have acted is powerful. The house is a favorite in blackjack largely because the house always wins when the player goes bust, even if the dealer later busts, too.
Scott, have you got any tips on playing “ace-rag” hands? Seems like when I play them, I get into trouble a lot of the time, but I witness other players winning with them all the time — Don, New York
Single-table “sit-and-go” tournaments are great for testing new strategies and for getting you in and out of the action quickly.
I simultaneously love and hate playing poker on the East Coast. I love it because the tournaments there still attract a healthy number of amateur players, and the caliber of characters you run into at the table is unmatched anywhere else.
On a sunny January day in the Bahamas, I took my seat for Day One of the annual PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, somewhat ready to play in the biggest $10,000 no-limit hold ‘em tournament of the year outside of the World Series of Poker Main Event.
Scott — There’s been something on my mind, but I haven’t come across anybody who’s able to give me advice that I’d feel confident putting into action. You’re definitely the guy to ask since you’ve had consistent results in non-hold ‘em events.
Throughout much of World Poker Tour Season X, Will Failla was the Player of the Year leader, a position he held since winning the Legends of Poker event at the start of the season. It wasn’t until the end of the season that Joe Serock, who made back-to-back final tables in San Jose, Calif., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., surpassed him.
You’ve made it to the river, but you lost a paddle along the way. You aren’t quite sure if your hand has enough value to call the river bet you’re facing, but given your actions, your opponent might think it possible that you have a very strong holding. However, you’re fairly certain your opponent can’t call a raise because of how he played his hand. Do you give up and sink into the water (call), or do you battle the current to reach the end of the river (raise)?
Playing in poker tournaments requires large buy-ins. As a way to diversify our investment, many players have staking agreements with other pros. Sometimes it’s a simple percentage swap, sometimes it’s an outright stake — I’ll pay $2,000 of your $10,000 buy-in for 20 percent of your winnings.
Recently, I played in the first-ever World Poker Tour event in Philadelphia, at the Parx casino. It was a $3,500 event with re-entry, and for the first four levels practically everything fell my way.
Scott — I play a $1 to $2 no-limit game at the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach, Fla. In a hand recently, I drew ace-king suited and was one off the button. Five players limped in, and I raised to $20. Three players took the flop with me.
On rare occasions you can win a pot but still feel like you lost the hand. This usually happens in hands where your opponent saves money by folding on the river when he was considering calling, but sometimes it happens when your opponent just calls the river instead of raising. That’s precisely the way I was owned in a $3,000 no-limit event at this summer’s World Series of Poker by a talented young player named Jason Wheeler, who’s little known to the general public but well respected within the poker community.
The 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event ended early for me, as I busted on the second day. I don’t subscribe to the mentality that busting the Main Event is the worst day of the year. As far as I’m concerned, it’s my job to bust poker tournaments. Besides, when you’re playing a tournament with 6,500 opponents, you have to know there are an awful lot of people in the way of realizing that final-table dream.
Scott — I had one tough spot tonight in $1/$2 no-limit hold ‘em. You don’t know the table dynamics, but I want to get an opinion.
After five years of intense poker training, something was still missing, so for nine months prior to my first World Series of Poker Main Event in 2006, I went on what I call “The Poker Diet.” Wow, did it make a huge difference in my focus. I convinced myself I was going to win, dreamed about it daily, and off I went.
In early June, I played the $2,500 four-max event at the World Series of Poker. There had never been a four-max event (no more than four players per table) at the WSOP, and many were concerned about the potential turnout.
Every few weeks, DeepStacks pros such as WSOP champions Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi and Tristan “Cre8ive” Wade walk into poker rooms across the country to teach training courses. And without fail, they see the same glaring mistakes over and over.
Scott, The World Series of Poker is under way. What are your plans for this year’s events? — Judy, Dayton, Ohio
Leading up to the $25,000-buy-in World Poker Tour championship event at the Bellagio, I was excited. It’s inevitable one feels confident coming off a final table in the previous event, but I knew the field in Las Vegas would be about as difficult as they come.
Trust your instincts. Whenever I’m asked what’s the single most important thing you can do in poker, that’s always my first response.
One thing I’ve noticed a lot recently is that more players are making high-card call-downs — they get to the river and make a bluff-catching call with a hand like ace, king or queen high. There are definitely times when this play is profitable and optimal, but some players aren’t using this strategy correctly, and it’s costing them money.
Scott, I’ve been playing poker for a long time, but I often take extended breaks from the game for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I take a break after an extended period of losing. But sometimes after an extended period of winning I’ll take a break to spend more time with my family. I’ve learned how important a good balance is for my life. My question is, what should I do to knock off the “rusty” feeling I get each time I return to the game? It generally takes me at least three sessions to get back in the groove. Can you suggest anything that might speed up that process? — Glenn, Hawaii
The Jacksonville BestBet Open in Florida was the second-to-last event of the World Poker Tour’s 10th season. Going into the tournament, recent back-to-back final tableist Joe Serrock had become the points leader in the Player of the Year race, with old-school grinder and big personality Will “The Thrill” Failla just behind him.
It’s no secret that by the usual societal standards, many professional poker players are considered rather eccentric.
The first day of the 2011 L.A. Poker Classic event went excellently for me. I finished with nearly triple the starting stack of $30,000 after eight levels of poker, with nearly everything falling my way. I made a number of hands in big and relevant pots, and had someone donate half a stack to me in the second level when he got all in with top pair to my overpair in a bloated pot.
I played the Bay 101 Shooting Star event in San Jose, Calif., for the first time last spring. As the “Raw Deal” host for the World Poker Tour, I was a “shooting star” at the event, meaning I had $1,500 deducted from my entry fee and a $5,000 bounty placed on my head that would go to whichever player knocked me out.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., hosted the World Poker Tour’s inaugural Lucky Hearts Poker Open in mid-February.