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Online Poker Strategy Session: ‘Endgame Poker Strategy’ Book Except – Dara O’Kearney on Game Selection

December 2, 2021 0 comments
Poker pro Dara O'Kearney offers players some insight on selecting the right games and ICM can play a role.

Poker pro Dara O’Kearney recently released his latest book with longtime poker author Barry Carter. Endgame Poker Strategy is the third book in the pair’s “Poker Solved” series and aims to help players break through in the later moments of a tournament.

In this excerpt from the book and latest edition of USPoker’s Online Poker Strategy Session, players can gain some insight into game selection. The book also offers some analysis into ICM and the authors get into that aspects of the game as well.

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Game Selection & ICM

The more players in a tournament, the softer it will be. In the words of my friend and legendary podcaster/author Andrew Brokos, “if a tournament has 1,000 players it must be good, because there aren’t 1,000 good players.”

The more people left in a tournament the bigger your edge should be. You will have a bigger edge with two tables left than when you are down to five players. You will have a bigger edge at a nine-max table than a six-max table.

This might go against the consensus in poker that short-handed is softer. You might often see inexperienced players make short-handed mistakes, but the more bad players who remain in the field boosts your own ROI.

To see this you only need to look at win rates for the best SNG players in the world, which are often barely 10% ROI for single table tournaments. This is why SNG (sit and go) regulars tend to migrate to tournaments because they enjoy a bigger edge. Most regulars greatly overestimate their edge on one table but equally underestimate their edge with two tables left, or more.

Look for the bad players

The more players left, the more bad players will tend to be left. When a bad player makes an error it improves your equity, even if they are on another table. Every mistake gets divided up between the winning players left in the tournament.

Sometimes in a hand the equity from one bad player goes directly to another bad player, who will then make bad decisions with a bigger stack. Bad players have a compounding effect on your equity.

Does this mean we think you should devote all your time to 10,000-runner fields? No. In fact we think the best advice for most MTT grinders from an ICM perspective is to concentrate on small-field tournaments, with some shots at larger field tournaments thrown in.

There are three reasons why you should probably concentrate on MTTs with fields around the 50-300 runner mark, rather than 600-10,000 runner fields.

1) ICM Practice

Players who started in SNGs like I did naturally understood ICM because it was the biggest part of the game. Then we saw ICM fall out of favor with the poker community for a while, but now everyone realizes they need to understand it again. 75% of the private coaching I do is people who realize they have major ICM leaks.

When you play one table SNGs, ICM is the most important aspect of poker strategy. For people who play 10,000-runner fields, ICM is not as big a part of what they do.

They know they should play tight on the bubble but they only make a final table every 1,000 MTTs on average, so ICM is not as obvious to them.

Avoid critical mistakes

Unfortunately for them that means when they do make a final table they often make massive ICM mistakes, which are amplified because the prize pools are so big compared to the buy-in. An ICM mistake in PokerStars$22 Mini Sunday Million might cost you $3,000 in equity, for example.

If you play 200 runner fields, however, you will make the final table every 20 tournaments on average. You get to experience ICM extreme situations much more often and practice what you have learned in books like this.

You will have the ranges drilled down and have an innate understanding for things like Bubble Factor, when to ladder, what a good deal looks like and so on. These things will be second nature to you for when you do actually go deep in a major event. 

I once wrote a controversial article where I said I would take an average mid-stakes online MTT grinder two tables out in the World Series of Poker Main Event over Irish poker legend Andy Black.

Andy is a great live poker player but had only made 15 notable live final tables at the time. I would much rather take the guy who has made thousands of final tables and has his ranges drilled in.

Co-authors Barry Carter and Dara O’Kearney.

2) Variance Reduction

If you had unlimited time and unlimited patience then you should only ever play 10,000-runner fields because you will have the greatest edge in them. The best players in the world probably have a 400% edge in the WSOP Main Event.

In a soft 100-runner live game it would not be 100%. In a 45-person field it would be about 40%, in an SNG it might be 20%. Variance and ROI have a proportional relationship, the bigger the field the bigger the edge, but also the bigger the variance. 

The bigger the field size the bigger your sample size of tournaments has to be to realize your edge. In my own 14-year career I have never had bigger than a $20,000 downswing, but it is normal for people to play 10,000-runner fields to have losing years.

You don’t need a massive sample to realize your edge when the field sizes are 100-300. This is one of the reasons why Super High Roller tournaments, which tend to have 30-50 runners, thrive despite being made up of tough regulars, you might only need a sample of 500 MTTs.

A few online examples

Let’s put some numbers on this. Look at the flagship online poker tournament, the $109 Sunday Million at PokerStars. Assume it gets 7,000 runners on average each week and you have a 25% edge in this tournament.

Using the tournament variance calculator at www.primedope.com you can see what happens if you played that event every Sunday for 10 years (520 game sample):

The graph above shows 20 random samples from 1,000 simulated samples. As you can see there is one massive outlier where we win almost $500,000 in profit but most of our runs end in a loss.

Our EV is just $14,170 with a standard deviation of $83,632. With a bankroll of $10,000 (100 buy-ins) our risk of ruin is 86.5% and probability of loss is 56.9%.

Compare that to the €109 SuperNova on Sundays at Unibet, which gets closer to 300 runners every weekend.

As you can see our 20 random samples are all closer together but with lower upside when we run great. Our EV is $14,170 and our standard deviation is $15,115. Our risk of ruin is now just 15.1% and our probability of loss is just 17.3%

The upside is obviously much greater in the Sunday Million, but 56.9% of the time we will lose money playing it every weekend for a decade. That only happens 15.1% of the time in the SuperNova.

You would need to play a sample in the tens if not hundreds of thousands to realize your edge in a massive tournament like the Sunday Million or the WSOP Main Event. When you do the simulation for 10,000 tournaments then your risk of ruin goes down to 30% and probability of loss goes down to 0.

This is simply never going to happen, you can never realize your edge in a tournament like this because you will never have time, but you can easily realize your edge in a 300-runner field event like the SuperNova.

Last word on large tournaments

Players who concentrate exclusively on large-field tournaments often go broke and frequently have to get staked to keep playing where they will be in makeup for long periods, or they need a massive bankroll.

I have never had to be staked to play, other than selling pieces, because I have always focussed on low variance formats. 

It’s good to take shots at bigger field events, in fact shot taking is a legitimate bankroll strategy. Binking a large field MTT is a springboard to playing higher stakes – you cannot really grind your way to the high rollers.

I now play large field events because I’m at a stage in my career where I have other income streams for when I go on downswings. For up and coming players and those who want longevity in the game, concentrating on smaller fields will keep variance at bay.

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3) Mental Game

If those simulations for the Sunday Million scared you, that neatly introduces the third reason why I advocate playing smaller field MTTs.

Not having to deal with the swings of large field MTTs and having practiced all the tough ICM spots in smaller field MTTs over and over again will naturally give you fewer mental game problems to deal with.

Dealing with long losing stretches can finish off a lot of good players and the pressure of tough spots in big moments can lead a player to perform poorly when it matters the most. 

I have never had more than a $20,000 downswing in my career. But I know very talented players who go long periods questioning if they will ever win again.

Not having to rely on staking or being in makeup means you will have a much clearer head when you play poker. Knowing you have been in this situation thousands of times before in a tough ICM spot makes it easier to do the right thing and makes it easier to deal with when the cards do not fall your way.

WSOP Weekly: ‘Homeless Poker Player’ & Strategy Writer Scores Bracelet, More Updates

July 12, 2021 0 comments
Plenty of action continued over the weekend in the WSOP Online. That included two events topping 1,400 entries and more big prize pools.

Plenty of action continued over the weekend in the World Series of Poker Online WSOP.com. That included two events that topped 1,400 entries and more big prize pools.

A major name has yet to emerge as a bracelet winner, but Nevada and New Jersey online regulars continue to score well. Poker strategy writer Carlos Welch made some waves over the weekend by winning his first bracelet.

Here’s a look at some of the recent results.

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EventTournamentEntriesPrize poolWinnerWinner payout
1$500 NLHE BIG 500 Kickoff (July 1)1,277$574,650Jose “Deposit” Noboa$105,161
2$600 NLHE Monster Stack (July 2)1,038$560,520Manig “Ohio77” Loeser$104,313
3$500 NLHE Turbo Deepstack (July 3)950$427,500Donnell “Spreezy52” Dais$90,801
4$500 NLHE Super Turbo (July 4)850$382,500Jeffery "Steelvikes7" Hoop$73,861
5$1,000 NLHE 8-Max459$648,700Jeremiah "freestylerr" Williams$139,600
6$2,000 NLHE Deepstack416$769,600Tyler "ShipTheShip" Denson$175,700
7$777 Lucky Sevens888$621,600Michael "stiltwalk" Mercaldo$123,574
8$888 Crazy Eights782$625,600Carlos "CarlosWelch" Welch$124,369
9$400 NLHE Six-Max788$438,120Philip "wingsuiter" Beck$81,534
10$2,000 NLHE1,517$455,100Michael "njnj17" Leib$81,645
11$400 NLHE Ultra Deepstack1,417$510,120Vijay "Eclypzed" Para$86,210
12$500 NLHE Turbo Deepstack958$431,550Bryan “Pellepelle” Piccioli$83,332
13$1,000 NLHE Freezeout561$504,900Ryan “Adopt_aDogg0” Leng$108,654
14$500 NLHE671$466,200Gionni “Coldwarkid” Demers$90,023
15$5,300 NLHE High Roller188$940,000Justin “Jsaliba2” Saliba$253,800
16$600 PLO Hi/Lo Six-Handed498$268,920Allen “Acnyc718” Chang$61,394
17$400 NLHE 8-Max747$405,000Justin “LappyPoker” Lapka$75,371
18$1,000 North American Open756$692,000James “Danfriel” Gilbert$137,570
19$888 PLO Crazy Eights Eight-Handed507$405,600Martin “bathroomline” Zamani$92,598
20$3,200 NLHE High Roller311$948,840Sang “youngkoi” Lee$241,768
21$600 PLO Six-Handed1,551$297,540Bradley “DrStrange7” Ruben$61,148
22$600 NLHE Knockout612$342,720“LastBullet”$46,796
23$500 NLHE Turbo694$312,300Ryan “hagzzz021” Hagerty$67,207
24$400 NLHE MonsterStack1,176$423,360Byung “bhy101” Yoo$77,475
25$7,777 High Roller151$1,113,927David “dpeters17” Peters$283,940
26$500 NLHE Big Encore1,118$503,100Eric “8Bracelets” Van Auken$93,627
27$1,000 Pot Limit Omaha Championship398$367,050David “lox10” Goldberg$86,440
28$3,200 High Roller Championship265$805,600Daniel “RiverRats” Lazarus$205,347
29$800 NLHE Turbo 8-Max Turbo Deepstack623$448,560Chris “Robotbob47” Moorman$102,406
30$600 NLHE Six-Max Championship783$422,820Mitchell “franzia” Halverson$84,057
31$500 NLHE Summer Saver917$412,650Brad “1badcajun” Zusman$79,683
32$1,000 NLHE Championship821$738,900Drew “dudeguydrew” O’Connell$146,893
33$500 Grand Finale 2,024$159,100Dan “feeltheflow” Sindela$1,000,000

Event #8: $888 Crazy Eights (July 8)

Many may know Carlos Welch as a strategy writer and co-host of the Thinking Poker Daily podcast. He offers players a plethora of concepts and ideas when not at the tables himself.

That mindset for the game also paid off last Thursday in the WSOP Online. He topped a field of 782 to score a $124,369 payday and championship bracelet.

That’s a long way from his life known as “The Homeless Poker Player.” He hit the road in his car known as the “Nit Mobile” going from event to event. Welch actually played the event from a hotel room in the Rio.

Topping the event wouldn’t be easy. He battled heads-up against Joon “jykpoker” Kim, who won a bracelet in last summer’s WSOP Online.

Event #9: $400 NLHE Six-Max (July 9)

This smaller buy-in event attracted 788 entries for a $438,120 prize pool. Philip “wingsuiter” Beck came out on top for $81,534 and this is just his fifth WSOP cash.

Apparently Beck is a big fan of Team partypoker pro Jaime Staples. He sent the Twitch streamer a word of thanks after the win.

Justin “pocketprofit” Wong finished runner-up for $50,384. Others cashing included: Michael “thegrinder44” Mizrachi (149th, $701); Craig “imgrinding” Varnell (101st, $701); Daniel “DNegs” Negreanu (64th, $1,008); and  Anthony “heheh” Zinno (18th, $2,892).

Event #10: $2,000 NLHE (July 10)

The stakes were again raised for this event with 1,517 entries and a prize pool of $455,100. Michael “njnj17” Leib took the top spot for a $81,645 payout and first gold bracelet. He has less than $15,000 in live tournament winnings, so this is quite a nice addition to his poker record.

Robert “LuckyLuch11” Aronowitz finished runner-up for $50,562. A couple big names also made the final table. Dan “oiltrader513” Shak finished fourth for $25,850.

2018 WSOP Main Event third-place finisher Michael Dyer took fifth for $13,926. This marked his fourth cash of the series.

Other players cashing included: Shannon “aulophobia” Shorr (12th, $4,733); Carlos “carloswelch” Welch (31st, $1,957); Tony “Panoramic” Dunst (42nd, $1,638); YK “LuckySpewy1” Kwon (58th, $1,183); and Anthony “heheh” Zinno (98th – $728).

Shorr now has a couple deep runs in the series. Last Friday, he also offered up a bit on his final table preparation after some nice runs recently in the live arena as well.

Event #11: $400 NLHE Ultra Deepstack

Vijay “Eclypzed” Para won a WSOP Online Circuit ring in January and now add to that collection. This event brought in 1,417 entries for a $510,120 prize pool. The New Jersey grinder came out on top for $86,210 and his first championship bracelet.

Belgium’s Felix “madenspauwke” Vandeput took runner-up for $53,155. Las Vegas poker pro Anthony “Nowb3Athat” Spinella won the first WSOP online bracelet in 2015 and came close again. He took sixth place for $15,202. Anthony Zinno also had another nice run, finishing eighth for $8,672.

This event marked Zinno’s eighth cash of the series as he hopes to score his third bracelet. Others in the money included: Dan “pepperprince” Zack (23rd, $2,601); Jesse “MrJesseJames” Sylvia (32nd, $2,091); Landon “ActionDealer” Tice (56th, $1,275); and Matt “RubberFist” Stout (81st, $969); and 2017 WSOP Main Event winner Scott “ItsNVRgoDown” Blumstein (93rd, $765).

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Major names yet to bank a win

While plenty of major names have been getting close, winners have remained mostly unknown to many poker fans. With 22 events remaining there are plenty still looking to snag a bracelet.

The action will then shift to GGPoker, which should also attract plenty of pros with a bracelet on the brain as well. It should make for an interesting two months leading into the fall and the live WSOP in Las Vegas.

A look ahead

Plenty of action remains including a mix of buy-in levels. Through Thursday, players will find buy-ins ranging from $500 to $5,300.

That Super High Roller event plays out Thursday and should be an event to watch. Plenty of big names will be out in force with that price point building a hefty prize pool. Here’s a look at what to look for over the next few days.

  • $500 NLHE Turbo Deepstack – July 12
  • $1,000 NLHE Freezeout – July 13
  • $500 NLHE – July 14
  • $5,300 Super High Roller Freezeout – July 15

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Online Poker Strategy Session: Cash Games, Bluffing, Tells, & More With New LearnWPT Instructor Michael Gagliano

June 9, 2021 0 comments
New LearnWPT lead instructor Michael Gagliano recently spoke with USPoker about strategy for online cash games, bluffing, and more.

Longtime New Jersey online poker grinder and Twitch streamer Michael “Gags30” Gagliano is the latest addition to the LearnWPT strategy team.

A consistent force in cash games and tournaments during his 15-year career, Gagliano has several high profile tournament titles. In 2016 he won a World Series of Poker bracelet for $448,463.

Gagliano is an East Coast poker scene regular and also an ambassador for Borgata Poker and partypoker US Network. He has more than $6 million in live and online tournament earnings and nearly a decade as a professional coach. He recently spoke with USPoker about online poker cash games, bluffing, and more.

Adjusting to online cash games

The growing number of online poker players in US regulated markets has been a plus for cash game players looking for action.

Michael Gagliano battles in the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic. (photos courtesy WPT)

When playing hands, Gagliano advises being more discerning for a better route to success over the long run.

“The biggest mistake that I see players making is simply playing too many hands,” he says. “It can be very tempting to play lots of differently suited hands or hands that have an Ace in them, but in most situations it’s best to stick to better starting hands.

“Playing a stronger range preflop will also make the rest of the hand much easier to play, as it’s easier to make better decisions when on average you’re starting with better hands.

For tournament players looking to add cash games, Gagliano also has some advice. The transition can be difficult, so it may be wise to play at lower stakes than your usual tournament range.

“Give yourself a chance to get used to the play style in cash games before moving back to your usual buy-in level,” he says.

Another important factor is picking a cash game format that closely matches the tournaments you’re used to playing. For example, if you play eight- or nine-handed tournaments, don’t jump into heads-up or three-handed cash games with fast and aggressive play. 

“Instead, take some time to find some nine-handed cash games or at least some full six-handed tables so you can ease yourself in,” Gagliano says.

Analyze playing styles

Additionally, take notice of the differences in playing style between tournaments and cash games. Most tournaments have antes while most cash games don’t.

This difference affects play preflop tremendously, Gagliano says. Stacks are going to almost always be deeper in cash games. Hands that work well in tournaments might not always be great at 100 big blinds deep.

It’s also productive to analyze the play of others at the table, keeping in mind some key ideas. 

“Try to take notice of what the better regulars are doing,” he says.

Some concepts to consider when analyzing opponents include:

  • What kinds of sizings are they commonly using?
  • How often are they playing pots from under the gun or from the button?
  • Why are they playing tighter in certain spots or looser in others?

“The transition to cash is a rewarding one,” Gagliano says, “and once you start figuring out how to better play some of these unique situations you will quickly feel yourself improving as a poker player.”

Looking for tells

Finding a tell on an opponent in a live game has always been a big part of poker. Is a particular player doing something that gives away the strength of his hand?

While it’s not quite as easy, online players may also have some tells.

“The biggest tells I look for in online cash games are bet sizing tells,” Gagliano says. “Try to figure out what type of player someone is by how they think about bet sizing. Do they bet big with their strong hands, or do they bet big when they’re trying to get you to fold?

“If you can figure out how someone thinks about their sizing, you can gain extremely valuable information on what they may be holding. Sometimes you can gather a large amount of information about how a player thinks just by seeing one or two hands that they’ve played.”

Mixing in some successful bluffing

Finding the right time to bluff can really pay off in certain situation. On the other hand, bluff too much and that chip stack can be hacked away by opponents. That’s the tightrope players must walk. But Gagliano notes that occasionally mixing in some bluffs can be very rewarding in the long run. 

“This is a complex topic worthy of a much deeper discussion, but to simplify: you need to bluff sometimes in poker because if you were never bluffing, then no one would ever call your bets, and you wouldn’t be able to make money,” he says.

Pick bluffing spots based on your hand and compare it to all the overall hands you might have in a situation. This helps analyze if it’s time to make a move.

“If you find yourself in a situation where you very normally have a very strong hang, but this time have a very weak hand,” Gagliano says, “then you’ve likely found a very good situation to start bluffing.”

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New role at LearnWPT

As a longtime poker coach, Gagliano not only brings a history of teaching others but also considerable experience. He’ll be helping out both tournament and cash game players.

“I’m very excited to be part of LearnWPT,” he says. “I’ll be making strategy content to help others improve their game. Being that I specialize in both high stakes multi-table tournaments as well as cash games, players can expect to see me produce a variety of content.

“I hope to help players to better bridge the gap between solid theoretical play and high-EV [expected value] exploitative play.”

Players on the partypoker US Network have already become used to LearnWPT’s strategy offerings. The site recently partnered with the network to help players improve their skills as well as streaming some final table action.

Gagliano now becomes another addition to the team and hopes to help players create their own poker success stories.

New members of LearnWPT can gain access to the first month for only $5. Click here for more information.

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Partypoker US/BetMGM, LearnWPT Team Up to Offer Players Exclusive Strategy Content With “For the Player” Promotion

April 12, 2021 0 comments
Partypoker has now joined forces with LearnWPT to bring players some free strategy content  as part of the “For The Player” campaign.

Poker is a constantly evolving game with players always looking for an edge – new information and new techniques. Those at partypoker US Network now have the opportunity for some advanced training.

Partypoker has now joined forces with LearnWPT to bring players some free strategy content  as part of the “For The Player” campaign. LearnWPT is the official training site of the World Poker Tour and now offers players a chance to work on their skills.

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Playing online poker, improving skills

Partypoker US Network includes the BetMGM and BorgataPoker.com skins and is available in New Jersey and Michigan (BetMGM). As part of the For the Player promotion, players have access to exclusive tips, training videos and events, and other key features.

Some of the poker pros offering strategy advice at the site include:

  • Nick Binger – $2.3 million in live tournament winnings, two-time WSOP bracelet winner
  • Andrew Lichtenberger – $10.5 million in live tournament winnings, WPT champion, WSOP bracelet winner, 
  • Tony Dunst – WPT champion, two-time WSOP bracelet winner, and WPT commentator 

LearnWPT touches on all areas of poker including mental game preparation and theory by author and coach Jared Tendler.

“Players on partypoker US in New Jersey and Michigan will have access to lots of free training content,” Binger says, “from weekly poker decision hands to strategy episodes to advanced playable hands on the WPT GTO Trainer.”

LearnWPT also offers a free weekly email newsletter as well, which is available to all US online poker players. This gives players a new strategy video or article each week to help improve their game for free. To opt into the newsletter, players just need to sign up with their email on the site.

Learning the ins and outs of GTO poker

LearnWPT has many options to help beginners all the way up to advanced players. A big part of that is the GTO Trainer. GTO is short for Game Theory Optimal and describes a method of poker that makes a player unexploitable. The goal with GTO poker is to help a player win over the long term.

There is something for every level of player, Binger notes, and partypoker players now get a nice introduction to the site.

“LearnWPT has hundreds of strategy episodes organized by skill level,” Binger says. “If you are comfortable with the rules of No Limit Hold’em but need an overall basic strategy, you should dive into Small Stakes play.

“More regular and serious students would be at home in Mid Stakes. Lastly, our High Stakes track covers the concepts used by the best players in the world with a heavy focus on solver-based analysis and hands from the WPT GTO Trainer.”

Catch partypoker final tables on Twitch 

Along with For the Player, LearnWPT also has recently launched a Twitch channel. The site recently sponsored the partypoker Online Series Main Event in March and continues to stream more final tables.

Streaming partypoker final tables allows LearnWPT to extend its reach to the site’s players. Viewers can interact with coaches from the site and receive live commentary on the action as well as strategy advice.


Fans of the Twitch channel can even get advice while the game is playing out online.

The LearnWPT team continues to produce content to give players an edge in today’s modern game. What’s Binger’s best advice to players hoping to add to their skills?

“Never stop learning and improving,” he says. “You should be spending time every day focused on improving your play. The moment you stop to rest on your laurels in this game is the moment you start falling behind.”

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Online Poker Strategy Session #3: Improving Satellite Skills With Dara O’Kearney 

March 25, 2021 0 comments
Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney and Barry Carter offer some satellite strategy tips from their recent book Poker Satellite Strategy.

Appealing to recreational players has been a major part of online poker sites’ strategies over the last couple years. Numerous satellites and qualifiers are a big part of those efforts to bring more players into the game.

Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney and Barry Carter wrote the book on satellite events – literally. Their recent book Poker Satellite Strategy offers players a unique look at tailoring their play toward these qualifying events.

O’Kearney has more than $1.1 million in live tournament winnings and twice won the PokerStars UK and Ireland Poker Tour satellite leaderboard. Carter is the editor at PokerStrategy.com and has written four strategy books. O’Kearney and Carter offered up some ideas for players to think about as they navigate through satellites.

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Beware of battling too much

Satellites can be a great way to earn entrance into a tournament at a bargain price. However, because where a player finishes doesn’t mean much, it’s important to simply qualify.

Whether you’re first in chips or just one ahead of the bubble is irrelevant. Simply getting that tournament ticket to the event is the goal. Avoid major conflicts late in an event, which can be costly.

“If normal tournaments are war, then satellites are more like the Cold War,” O’Kearney says. “Late on in a satellite, you need to display to your opponents that you are willing to engage, while doing everything possible to avoid actual confrontations. Merely understanding that gives you an advantage over opponents who had never heard of mutually assured destruction.”

This concept should help players discover their biggest leaks when it comes to satellites. Some ideas about playing aggressively may not be consistent with a normal tournament.

“Either you are playing like a maniac and playing too many hands (especially calling too much) or everybody knows you are willing to blind yourself out to make the money so you will be seen as a soft target,” O’Kearney says. “Neither approach is ideal, so keep this in mind before anything else. You have to appear dangerous, so ideally you’ll have been seen playing aggressively when you get the hands to do so. But you want to avoid confrontation as much as possible.

“This runs contrary to regular multi-table tournaments (MTTs) where you could say that the philosophy of them is to realize your equity, by getting your strong hands paid, as much as possible so you can build a big stack for the final table.”

In a satellite, building that stack for a final table isn’t the goal and that’s a major key to remember.

Tighten up your game

A fundamental difference in satellites is that everyone is playing for prizes of equal value. Calculated risks in a multi-table tournament may be worth it at times to build a stack. But in a satellite these can be even more costly.

“Calling a raise with a small pair in the hopes of making a set, chasing a draw because you think your opponent will pay you off, or making a call with an inferior hand because you are priced in – these are all tactics which will see you bust early from MTTs, but when they pay off they put you in a good position to secure a massive payday,” O’Kearney says.

“Playing to min-cash is a terrible long term strategy in MTTs, but in satellites a min-cash is the goal. The number of times you cash is much more important than your ability to crush the field, so that means reducing the number of times you bust by not taking needless risks.”

Obviously players must build a stack to get to the bubble. But playing a tight-aggressive strategy and removing high variance pays off in the long run.

“That means once the blinds have started to get big – no set mining with small pairs, no chasing draws with suited connectors, no coin flips and avoid defending with poor holdings because you are priced in,” O’Kearney says. “These moves may be ChipEV correct but they reduce your chances of having a survivable stack come bubble time.”

Barry Carter and Dara O’Kearney, authors of Poker Satellite Strategy.

Shove when needed

Building on this last concept, it’s also important to make big moves when you are dealt a big hand. Once blinds are big and stack sizes shallow, players avoid reshoves after smaller raises by simply moving all in.

O’Kearney says this is a good idea even with 20 or 30 effective big blinds.

“If you open to 2.5x big blinds as your standard bet and get shoved on you are going to have to fold so often that this is a sure-fire way to get blinded down to a micro stack,” he notes.

“Generally, you will get a lot more folds when you open shove in a satellite compared to a regular MTT, but that doesn’t mean do it with a wide range. Do it with hands you don’t mind getting called with.”

Players aren’t looking for calls. Instead, hope opponents fold even when holding you hold a very strong hand.

“Trapping and inducing is a great strategy when you are trying to win the whole tournament,” O’Kearney says, “but the more you avoid showdown, the more likely you are to survive to the bubble.”

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Quit the calling

In a normal tournament, calling an all-in with a decent hand may offer the reward of knocking out another player. An elimination also comes with an increase to your chip stack

But the variance that comes with plays like that can be crippling in a satellite. Folding more often in these spots could be a better option.

“The best way to reduce variance is to dramatically reduce the range you are prepared to call an all-in with when the amount you would stand to lose would hurt you severely or eliminate you,” O’Kearney says. “Quite simply you are putting yourself at the mercy of the deck when you call an all-in, and in satellites we want to avoid high variance showdown situations as much as possible.”

This comes back to that open-shove scenario. Being the first player all-in puts massive pressure on opponents. Those with satellite experience will want to avoid a flip situation – and will avoid calling themselves.

“You give yourself two ways to win when you are the one putting pressure on others by going all-in – you can get them to fold or you can win the hand at showdown if they call,” O’Kearney says. “When you are the one facing an all-in call, there is only one way to win and that is to have the best hand at showdown.”

Poker Satellite Strategy is available here and is also available as an audiobook.

Go Behind the Scenes With Daniel Negreanu, Doug Polk Tech and Strategy Teams

February 26, 2021 0 comments
USPoker took a look at what kind of efforts went on behind the scene by the Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu strategy and tech teams.

Playing heads-up cash games online for hundreds of thousands of dollars isn’t something most poker players will ever experience. However, poker fans recently got a taste of this action with Daniel Negreanu squaring off against Doug Polk at WSOP.com.

Beyond the play on the felt and results, there was plenty of action behind the scenes as well. The two men spent hours in preparation and studying each day’s hands behind the scenes. That involved reviewing hand histories, solver analysis, coaching, and more.

For the uninitiated, the behind-the-scenes work might be surprising. USPoker took a look at what kind of efforts went into the match and how each got ready to hit the tables.

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Team Polk

Preparing for an online poker duel

In NASCAR, a driver earns major accolades for crossing the finish line in the top spot. But a big team in the background helps make that possible. The pit crew, team engineers, crew chief, and spotter all make efforts to get that driver to the checkered flag.

These two online poker warriors took a similar approach to the High Stakes Feud. Simply rolling out of bed and firing up the computer to play wouldn’t have been a good plan.

There’s no doubt Polk is an amazingly talented player. The founder of Upswing Poker didn’t go it alone in the challenge however.

After the final match in the series, Polk discussed his team on the final Upswing stream of the series. He offered a look at what into his efforts.

“I’m very happy that I spent so much time preparing and I felt that it ended up helping me tremendously and I got to execute at such a long period of time,” Polk said.

Doug Polk took home $1.2 million against Daniel Negreanu. (photo courtesy WPT)

That execution came with lots of fine tuning and adjustment. And the Polk war room included a team helping make that happen. A couple of players served as coaches to help build a framework for play and also run simulations on a poker solver.

A solver is a software program identifying the optimal play in a given situation. Players, or in this case Polk’s team, enter each situation and the software indicates the best choice. The routine involved hours of work each day.

♠♠♠ Click here for in-depth coverage on poker solvers. ♠♠♠

Another few players helped create hand ranges based on all of Negreanu’s bet sizes. A team of Upswing poker members also recorded statistics for all the hands throughout the series. That meant every continuation bet, raise, and any other move.

“They created a spreadsheet for me and were just straight-out grinding out stats,” Polk said.

Battling in the background

The match may have lasted three months, but Polk spent several months preparing beforehand. He hadn’t played in over a year before that and said he got “wrecked” initially playing at smaller stakes.

After finding his team of coaches, however, Polk’s game began to improve. His team constantly ran simulations – cross-testing bet sizes and hand ranges.

In reviewing the series, Polk believes Negreanu played well and could top most players who aren’t heads-up high-stakes specialists.

“I really think Daniel played exceptionally well for what I would have expected,” he said in a recent video analyzing Negreanu’s play throughout the series. “It’s a completely different beast heads-up. You have to play the vast majority of your hands.”

 

That involves continually making tough calls, sharp bluffs, and fighting for every pot, Polk noted. The effort may not have been NASA landing a rover on Mars, but there was a deep, high-tech team strategy underway.

Polk described his team as “some of the brightest minds in poker.” Sometimes that included reminding him to fold more and stick to the game plan. His tech team looked for a counter to every Negreanu change or adjustment.

That paid off to the tune of a $1.2 million win playing two tables at $200/$400 No Limit Hold’em.

“That full team of people helped me in different ways,” said Polk, who’s now heading to play in PokerGO’s High Stakes Poker. “I’m obviously thankful that I got to work with such great guys to get me to the level at where I am today. I just couldn’t have done it without them.”

Team Negreanu

Assembling a team for the challenge

Despite losing in the matchup, even Polk conceded that his opponent made considerable progress. He labeled Negreanu as a really good heads-up player who could do well against most challengers.

The problem is that Polk isn’t like most challengers. Extremely talented and possessing an innate gift for aggression at the right moments, he gives an opponent fits in extremely tough spots.

Negreanu knew he’d be the underdog going into the match and put together a team to help. After weeks of studying and preparing, Kid Poker hit the tables on Nov. 4.

Daniel Negreanu spent hours with his team preparing for the match. (photo courtesy WPT)

The Team Negreanu crew consisted of two people coaching him as the series went along. That came to as many as six hours a day. A third person was also involved learning along with Negreanu throughout the process to help fine tune the strategy.

This “poker pit crew” used a GTO (game theory optimization) practice driller. GTO is the concept of using analytical tools to make optimal choices regarding certain decisions.

That involved making use of the PioSolver and running simulations on hands Negreanu played. The team could use that analysis to create and work on new concepts.

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A growing complexity to high stakes online poker

What does all this high-tech analysis say about where online poker is now? It means playing at some of the highest stakes continues to require massive amounts of training and analysis.

“The game is more complex at the highest levels and the skill set to become a great poker player has changed,” Negreanu told USPoker. “It’s less about talent and more about work ethic and study when it comes to online poker. I think live poker is mostly safe from being totally overtaken.”

Looking back, Negreanu was forthcoming about the matchup and everything that went into it. He even recently discussed heading back to the tables heads-up against Phil Hellmuth.

“I learned a lot rapidly throughout the process,” he said, “but definitely needed more time to prepare for the match and be ready for hand one.”

That says a lot about what it takes to win in such an environment. The two treated the poker world to quite a show and there were plenty of hours of prep time to make that happen.

ONLINE STRATEGY SESSION #2: Sit & Go’s, Short Stacks, and More with Maria Ho

December 17, 2020 0 comments
Maria Ho offers some online poker strategy advice.

Maria Ho may be one of the busiest people in poker. That includes commentating on major events on the PokerGO streaming service and ESPN.

Her schedule also includes regular speaking gigs via the PepTalk coaching app. Ho’s poker and communication skills have certainly paid off. In 2019 she won the Global Poker Award for broadcaster of the year.

At the tables she’s earned $4 million in live tournament winnings including five World Series of Poker final table appearances. Ho’s resumé includes four World Poker Tour final tables and a WPTDeepstacks title.

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Ranked among the top five female players in the world, she became the youngest member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2018.

Players looking to improve their online poker skills will find Ho has plenty to offer. She spoke with USPoker about sit and go strategy, satellite survival, and dealing with hyper-aggressive players.

Some sit & go, satellite strategy advice

When it comes to these single-table tournaments, Ho says it’s not ideal to turn up the aggression early. Stay focused and avoid spots where you’d have to risk a lot of chips. She sees these events as similar to how one might play a satellite.

“My general strategy is to take a fairly conservative approach until the later stages,” Ho says. “It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter how many chips you end up with at the end as long as you qualify.

“Finding opportunities to chip up in low variance pots that don’t involve a lot of confrontation is a great way to put yourself in a qualifying chip position.”

Expanding on that scenario, maybe a player has been smart and won a few nice pots. That player has now built a nice chip stack and may be looking to adjust to this situation.

Maria Ho jumping in the World Poker Tour commentary booth with Vince Van Patten at the HyperX Esports Arena. (photo courtesy WPT)

How does a player handle a big stack in a sit & go or satellite when with quite a few players left? Ho says it’s important to not become too aggressive. Forget those ideas of running the table with any two cards.

“Make sure to not over-pace yourself as the big stack,” she says. “It’s easy to fall in the trap of wanting to play every pot and bully other players as the big stack.”

That doesn’t mean to avoid engaging. Make some moves with good cards, especially toward players with smaller stacks.

“If you are getting close to the bubble then there is definitely a huge advantage to being increasingly aggressive as the big stack when most players are in survival mode,” she says. “But pay close attention to the game flow and shift gears when necessary.”

Battling aggression from the blinds and working up a short stack

Every player has been there. Each time you’re on the small or big blind, the same player keeps putting in a hefty raise right near the button. How do you battle these players and defend those blinds?

“If the effective stack size is still fairly deep, then consider peeling a bit wider especially when facing small raises,” Ho advises. “Getting to the flop is a good way to realize your equity especially against a wide opening range.”

In the opposite scenario of the previous section, playing a short stack well is also important. What are some things to keep in mind when trying to work a small chip stack back up?

Maria Ho battles is out at a WPT final table in Las Vegas. (photo courtesy WPT)

Staying in control and not feeling the need to just “get it in” is key. Knowing your opponents at the table also helps.

“Nowadays there is a lot more maneuverability with a short stack than previously exercised,” she says. “You can peel from the big blind against a min raise much more liberally than before.

“The best tip I can give on working a short stack up is to not to allow desperation or panic to creep in. Instead focus your energy on finding a good spot to shove and honing in on your opponents’ preflop ranges to gain more insight on how to play your hands accordingly.”

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Bonus advice on folding from Maria Ho

Obviously, folding is a major part of poker. Key folds can extend a player’s life in a tournament or help avoid big losses in a cash game.

It may hurt to lay down a big hand, but sometimes players have to think long term in these situations. Ho recently took to Twitter to offer players some advice on the subject.

To follow Maria Ho on Instagram click here. To book her for a PepTalk speaking or coaching session, click here.

For the first edition of Online Poker Strategy Session with Jonathan Little, click here.

Photos courtesy WPT

PRESS PLAY: News to Fun to Strategy – Six Great Poker Podcasts to Check Out for 2021

December 7, 2020 0 comments
A look at some poker podcasts to check out for 2021.

In the early days of poker, the only place players could hear stories, news, or talk to other grinders was at the tables. With the rise of poker podcasts over the last several years, that has changed considerably.

Players can now enjoy poker news, interviews, and strategy discussions as they drive to work or hit the gym. Poker podcasts all have developed their own niche.

Some shows are based on strategy or news, while others are simply for entertainment. The great thing about podcasts is they are generally posted as free content. As podcasts continue to grow in popularity, here are six shows players may want to add to their commute.

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1 – The Orbit

This is one of the newest podcasts and it is hosted by Robbie Strazynski, founder of CardplayerLifestyle.com  The podcast takes a unique approach by presenting a poker round table discussion. Previous guests include such poker elites as Phil Galfond and Daniel Negreanu

The show debuted with the official launch of Twitch’s official exclusive poker channel. Strazynski plays host to such topics as:

  • The return of live poker after the pandemic.
  • Collusion issues in the online poker realm.
  • What’s happening in the online poker community.

2 – The Mindset Advantage

This podcast is hosted by mindset coach and author Elliot Roe and is distributed monthly. In each show, Roe invites talks with a poker pro about how to improve your mindset and become a better player. 

The host was featured in Jonathan Little’s book Excelling at No Limit Hold’em. Roe was highlighted under the mental game section, authoring the chapter Hypnotherapy for a Successful Mindset.

3 – DAT Poker Podcast

Three hosts are featured on the DAT Poker Podcast. The show includes Daniel Negreanu, Adam Schwartz, and Terrence Chan (hence the DAT in the title). The podcast generally comes out twice monthly with the hosts debating issues about the industry, poker news, and some strategy.

A unique part of the show is when they entertain voicemail questions. Fans can call in and leave a question via voicemail, and the hosts answer the questions in the next episode.

4 – Tournament Poker Edge Podcast

This show runs weekly and poker player and comedian Clayton Fletcher mans the microphone for the hosting duties. The podcast focuses mainly on multi-table tournament strategies. Fletcher invites multiple pros on his show to talk about the ever-changing dynamic of tournament poker. 

TPE also touches on general poker news from tournaments and events in the industry. The show has the distinction as one of the longest running strategy podcasts in the game, more than a decade.

5 – Poker on the Mind Podcast

Dr. Tricia Cardner and Gareth James host Poker on the Mind. Cardner is the author of multiple poker books including Positive Poker. The podcast dives into the mind and helps players create an edge in their mental game. 

POTM has more than 80 episodes dating back to 2017. The show drops about every other week. It’s an interesting listen hearing Cardner and James highlight mental strength through their discussions.

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6 – Nerdthusiast Poker Podcast

Nerdthusiast may be the new kids on the block, but the hosts have been around the poker scene since the Moneymaker boom. The monthly show focuses on the recreational player by discussing:

  • poker room reviews
  • news
  • funny stories the hosts have experienced along their casino travels

One highlight of the show is a monthly gambling movie review. Host Brian Keane breaks down his thoughts on some rare poker films each month. Keane also has been doing monthly updates about COVID-19 protocols at various casinos.

ONLINE STRATEGY SESSION #1: WPT Champion Jonathan Little Offers Advice to Bolster Your Skills

November 6, 2020 0 comments
Jonathan Little offers players online poker strategy advice.

When it comes to training, Jonathan Little is one of the most recognized names in poker. The two-time World Poker Tour champion becomes the first player in this new strategy feature.

The Online Poker Strategy Session series offers some quick advice for players to work on their skills. With millions in winnings live and online, Little brings big skills and experience to the virtual tables.

He’s also the founder of PokerCoaching.com and the author of the new book Excelling at Tough No Limit Hold’em Games. Little offered readers some things to consider next time they take out the laptop for some online action.

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Picking up online tells and taking notes

Physical tells at a live table may offer some information on how certain people play. Those same concepts can also be picked up on at an online poker table.

How can players actually pick up tells online? Are there any to watch for

“There are not a ton of non-technical tells available online beyond timing tells, which are often quite inaccurate due to people playing multiple tables at a time or being distracted,” Little says.

“However, bet sizing tells certainly exist, allowing you to make substantial adjustments based on the specific sized bets your opponent makes, assuming they use various sizes, such as deviating between betting 700 and 722 into a 1,000-chip pot.”

How important is using online note taking features many sites offer?

Little says those notes can certainly help when you see that same player again even in another event. A quick glance offers some insight on that person plays.

“You should definitely keep notes on all your opponents, both live and online,” he says. “Whenever you see someone make an abnormal play, take note and adjust accordingly.”

For success online, Little recommends working on playing fundamentally sound poker. Many players move online and feel the need to “mix it up” more than in their live games. That can be a foolish move.

“If you approach online poker with the idea that you’re going to play lots of pots and try to outplay your opponents by making big folds and big bluffs, you are almost certain to fail,” he says.

“Given you will have almost no reads on your opponents, you should play a fundamentally sound strategy and adjust to what your opponents do incorrectly only once their mistakes become clear.

“While getting out of line and crushing your opponent’s spirit may feel nice, playing well is what wins the money at the end of the day.”

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Online satellite success and more

Satellites are a great way to gain entry into a bigger event. Little offers some advice for jumping in one of these events hoping to make your way through the field.

How should players handle online satellites? How can players adjust their tournament strategies in these events?

“Satellites certainly require a different strategy than normal multi-table tournaments because the payout structures are drastically different,” Little says.

Survival is often prioritized in all tournaments, but it is especially prioritized in satellites because you do not have to win all the chips to collect a substantial prize.”

And what can online and Texas Hold’em players get out of Little’s new book?

“I have the amazing opportunity to interact with many of the best poker players in the world on a regular basis, but I realize many people do not,” he says.

“So, I put together Excelling at Tough No-Limit Hold’em Games to help the readers learn to think like the best players in the world by hearing their thoughts about their specific areas of expertise.”

USPoker readers can click here to take advantage of a free course at PokerCoaching.com. Little says the course will help learn the basics of fundamentally sound play and adjusting to what opponents do incorrectly.

★★★ Ready to get in the online poker game? Click here to find out more information and take advantage of several exclusive online poker bonus offers. ★★★

Photo courtesy WPT/Joe Giron

WSOP RETRO: 10 Strategy Changes Since the Debut of the World Series of Poker

July 22, 2020 0 comments
A look at poker strategy changes since the WSOP debuted.

After winning two back-to-back World Series of Poker Main Event bracelets, poker legend Doyle Brunson wrote a book that forever changed the game. He self-published and released “How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker” in 1979.

Today that book is known as Super System and paved the way for continued strategy shifts within poker. At the time, Brunson was criticized by fellow players for the book’s release.

Players were angry that he was “giving away” the game’s secrets. Super System, however, proved a launching point for more deep analysis of the strategy behind the game.

Since the book’s release, the game has continued to evolve and new strategies continue to emerge. Here’s a look at 10 strategy shifts since the WSOP’s debut.

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1 – Aggressive play pays off

In the 1998 movie Rounders, Mike McDermott, played by Matt Damon, defines his style as tight but aggressive. He explains this style to his professor in the famous scene in a New York City bar. Tight and Aggressive (TAG) was the “advanced” style for the time. 

 

2 – Strategy book boom

Strategy guides were around before the “Moneymaker boom,” but the thirst for knowledge exploded in 2003. More people began taking an interest in the game.

At the time, Two Plus Two Publishing was considered the go-to catalog for poker strategy books. The company was founded in 1998 by poker player and statistician Mason Malmuth.

Also post-Moneymaker, D&B Poker Publishing was founded by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs. Both companies continue publishing a seemingly never-ending list of books to help players with various aspects of their games.

3 – Small ball poker

One of those books was called Harrington on Hold’em. This ended up being a three-part tournament book series written by 1995 WSOP Main Event Champion Dan Harrington. The idea of small-ball poker and counting blinds to change one’s style of tournament play was mind bending at the time. 

Small ball poker is generally opening up the range of hands you play to see more flops in a cost-effective way. By lowering raise sizes, a player can get to the flop cheaper.

Before this style went into effect a general raise was considered three to five times the opening bet.

4 – YouTube poker

YouTube emerged in 2005 and changed the world, including the poker universe. Players began making online videos and promoted online poker training sites.

Six-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu was an early proponent of this teaching style. He helped expand the idea of loosening ranges of players through small ball style.

5 – The Jamie Gold-en rule

For many years, players openly discussed hands to get into players’ heads and change the outcome of the game. In 2006, Jamie Gold won the Main Event and used his style of gab throughout the tournament.

The following year the WSOP enforced a rule, dubbed as the “Jamie Gold Rule.” Players were no longer allowed to talk about hands in multi-way situations. This created a style change for many players. This issue is still debated and here’s a look at the actual rule:

WSOP Rule: Section VI Poker Rules 115 (A) (B)

Participants may not:

  1. Disclose contents of live or folded hands.
  2. Advise or criticize play at any time.

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6 – Rise of the LAG

When real money online poker exploded, players quickly figured out how to take advantage of TAG (Tight and Aggressive) players. Players began three-betting and continuation betting much more than in the past.

These attempts to counter small ball become known as “loose-aggressive style,” aka LAG. Three-betting is when a player reraises, generally in position, after a player raised already. This showed real strength because players rarely reraised unless they “had it.” 

Players also began making more continuation bets. In Harrington on Hold’em Volume 2, the author goes more in depth on the subject.

When a player raises preflop and has the action to open post-flop, he bets out to continue showing strength. The bet is made even if a player misses the flop. 

7 – Super-LAG brings even more aggression

As new names emerged as regular winners at the tables, new strategies also emerged in the mid-2000s. Players like Gus Hansen and Tom Dwan were taking advantage of LAG players in a more super-aggressive style.

In his 2008 book Every Hand Revealed, Hansen discusses his super-aggro style. Hansen and Dwan were known to make loose four- and five-bets to combat the three-bet style that had taken over normal play. This aggression could pay big dividends.

8 – What the HUD?

In the 2010s, online players began taking advantage of poker tracking software called HUDs (Heads-Up Displays). HUDs allowed players to keep track of hands played against certain players to rate their statistics and styles of play.

Players were now able to see how frequently someone was C-betting or three-betting, along with other stats. This allowed players to also find weaknesses in their own poker game and balance their playing styles. 

Currently, sites such as WSOP.com, partypoker, and Global Poker have banned the use of HUDs. There remains plenty of debate on the topic. 

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9 – GTO or no?

With all this data consumed in software, artificial intelligence (AI) has deciphered a lot of information in a short period of time. This data has been used to help create what’s called a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) style.

This allows a player to make his style unexploitable by balancing all aspects of his game. GTO is not a new concept. American quantitative analyst Bill Chen expressed his advanced game thoughts in 2006 in a book called The Mathematics of Poker.

Since then, the style has grown in popularity. This strategy takes into account concepts like probabilities, opponent ranges, and opponent modeling.

10 – Meta psychology

Poker tournament lengths have grown over the last 20 years. Other than the WSOP Main Event, it was rare to see a live tournament run for multiple days.

It’s now not uncommon for larger buy-in tournaments to last four days or more. Players realize live poker can be mentally and physically demanding.

A player’s mind is running at high speeds and strategically processing information for hours and hours. Books like Barry Carter’s Mental Game of Poker and Dr. Patricia Cardner’s Positive Poker help modern players with focus.

Players now make positive lifestyle changes to increase their abilities to perform at the highest levels. This includes better diets, exercise, and more.

What’s next for poker strategy? 

The game of poker certainly continues to change. New theories are introduced and then adapted to, and online poker is a big part of that. Staying current on ideas and playing styles gives a player an edge.

Studying, playing, and continual analysis tends to be the best track record for proven success in the game. Apps for poker training have also helped players work on their skills.

As Daniel Negreanu once noted about his efforts at improvement:

All I did was eat, sleep, and breathe tournament poker – and the results showed that.”

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