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In no-limit hold’em the size of your stack of chips and those of your opponents should have a significant impact on how you play a hand. If you’re playing in a $1-$2 no-limit game and have $250 in front of you, but you have just one opponent who has only $25 left to wager, the effective stack size is $25. That’s all you can win from him and all he can win from you. The maximum potential leverage of a wager either of you might make is only $25.

That’s all you can win—and all you can lose. Let’s assume you’ve been dealt QcQs and come out betting $6, which is a typical raise of three times the big blind. We’ll assume you are called by one opponent and both blinds fold. Now the flop is JsTc6d. You think your pair of queens is the best hand and come out betting.

Let’s say you bet $8, a wager of slightly more than half the pot. Your opponent, who began the hand with $25 and called your initial wager of $6, now has $19 remaining. What do you think he’ll do? He’s not likely to call your bet. With only $19 left, he will either fold or raise all-in, because an all-in wager stands some chance of inducing you to fold. Your bet on the flop means your opponent would only have $11 remaining if he called, and if he does call, he’ll probably face a call for the remainder of his chips on the turn. He’s much better off raising and getting all his chips in right now, rather than calling his money off in dribs and drabs throughout the hand.

Your opponent’s big advantage to raising all-in, rather than calling now and then having to call for the remainder of his chips on the next betting round, is that raising gives him what players refer to as fold equity. That’s another way of saying that as long as there’s some chance that your opponent’s raise will convince you to fold, in the long run he’s better off moving all-in than he would be by simply calling your bet and then calling another wager on the next betting round.

Suppose he does raise all-in. You’re probably going to call because he can’t hurt you all that much even if his hand is better than yours. In fact, it’s tough to think of why you would fold under these circumstances. After all, if your opponent was fortunate enough to flop a set, you still have an opportunity to improve and win the pot, and the cost to call is reasonable because he doesn’t have many chips remaining. Moreover, he might have a hand like K-J and thinks his pair of jacks is the top dog, when in fact, you’re still ahead of him. When you think of the hands your opponent might be holding that would motivate him to raise under these circumstances, the majority of them are currently running behind your pair of queens.

Now let’s assume the same hands, but this time you each have $500 in front of you. The effective stack size is now $500 instead of $25, and that’s a big difference. You could win $500, but you could lose that much too. It’s a far cry from the $25 effective stack size in the previous example. Your risk is precisely 20 times greater than it was before—$500 as compared to $25—and that increased level of risk should point you in the direction of increased prudence.

Suppose you make a slightly-more-than-half-the-pot $8 wager and your opponent raises $150. You have an overpair to the board, but realize that even if you call his $150 wager, you can expect to see bets on the turn and the river designed to put your entire $500 stack at risk. Unless your opponent is a complete maniac—someone who bets and raises huge amounts with nothing at all in his hand more often than not—discretion is usually the better part of valor and folding is the best play.

Even though your pair of queens figures to be at the top end of the hands he would raise with, it is certainly not better than all of the hands he might hold. So there’s some room for doubt that didn’t exist in the earlier example. Well, to be very precise, the level of doubt might be the same in both examples, but the cost is really quite different. If your opponent was fortunate enough to flop a set in the example where he only had $25 remaining, you couldn’t get hurt very much if he raised with a hand that happened to reside at the top of his potential holdings. But in a situation where the stacks are big and each of you had $500 potentially at risk, folding an overpair is usually a better decision than calling off all your chips.
Putting All Your Chips at Risk

You will find some opponents who will go all-in regardless of the cost with a big pocket pair, particularly pocket aces, and that’s a major leak in their game. Big and pretty as they are, aces are only one pair, and if his opponent flops two pair or a set, he’s looking to take every chip from the guy willing to go to his grave with aces.

While you’re not going to crack an opponent’s pocket rockets all that often, you don’t really have to. If you have an opponent who is willing to play top pair or an overpair for all his chips, all you need do is have this confrontation once a day or so to ensure that you have a healthy return on your investment at the poker table.

Many poker players make it a point never to go broke with one pair, except for situations where they are short-stacked in a tournament and have to make a stand in an attempt to double up or go home. But under normal circumstances, many of your opponents will not put themselves in a position where they have to confront the possibility of going broke with a single pair—even if it’s aces.

But some players are willing to put all their chips at risk with one pair. Players who were reared on fixed-limit hold’em seem to really suffer from this problem. To limit hold’em players, pocket aces are generally a through-ticket to the river, barring some odd board like four of a single suit that doesn’t match yours, or a four-straight on board with a bet and a raise before the action gets around to you. But those are rare birds and limit hold’em players generally play a pocket pair of aces fast and strong regardless of the board.

This affliction also bedevils very tight players too. They play so snugly that when they finally pick up a premium hand they are unwilling to release it, since they fold so many other hands with regularity. These players are often smart enough to understand they can be in trouble with one pair—even when that pair is aces—but are often emotionally unwilling to release the kind of hand their tight, rocky play has been waiting for all session.
Playing Through Multiple Streets

One of the expensive lessons learned when taking up no-limit poker is that decisions made on one betting round impact those made subsequently. In a fixed-limit game, a bet on the flop or the turn is sort of independent of what might transpire on subsequent rounds. Sure, your opponent might bet the turn if he bet the flop, but the amount of his bet is a known quantity and can easily be factored into a play-or-fold decision on that earlier betting round.

But whenever an opponent bets or raises on the flop or the turn in a no-limit game, there’s a good chance he’s going to make an even bigger wager on the next betting round. When all of your chips might be at risk on subsequent betting rounds, you have to consider the potential cost of impending bets when considering a decision to call now.

This has the effect of implied odds being leveraged against you. A call made at the price of a few chips when you have a drawing hand must be made with a considered awareness of what you intend to do if you miss your draw on the current wagering round and your opponent fires a very big bet at you subsequently. If that happens the cost to take a card off and see the river will have gone up dramatically, and the odds against completing your hand with only one card to come—as compared with the odds against making your hand with two cards to come when you’ve just seen the flop—have just gotten significantly longer.
The Short Stack Specialists

You’ll find many poker players – particularly those who play online – actively seek out no-limit games where they can buy in for a short stack. There they employ tactics designed to double up whenever they can while minimizing big losses specifically because they do not play a big enough stack to put their bankrolls at risk.

A short-stacker might look to buy-in to a cash game from between 15 and 30 big blinds. That’s a big difference from the maximum buy-in, which can range from 100 big blinds to an unlimited amount. Because of the difference in stack sizes, short stacked and deep stacked players are essentially playing different games for different stakes at the same table, and whenever there are two deep stacked and one short stacked player contesting a pot, the side pot is likely to be much larger than the main pot.

Because a short stacked player has little leverage over the actions of his more deeply stacked opponents, he has to play tight poker, while the deep stacked players can employ a looser style, using their stack size to pressure other players while manipulating the pot odds offered to them.

A tight-but-aggressive short stack strategy works best with a minimum of seven others at the table. If the table is short-handed, a short stacked specialist will be hard pressed to keep up with the cost of the blinds paid while waiting for big, playable hands. In addition, short stack strategy works better against loose opponents. Our short stacked specialist is looking for opportunities to go all-in for his short buy-in, and hoping for two or more callers when he does.
Conclusion

Determining the effective stack size is critically important in every hand you play. Without an awareness of how much potential risk exists based on the stack sizes, a player can easily get into more trouble than he’s looking for. It’s been said that poker is a game of money played with cards, and without being cognizant of stack size and the amount of money at risk on any given hand, a player can be in grave danger and not even realize it.

The traps of stack size are easy to avoid. Just estimate your opponent’s stack size—and always be aware of how many chips you have too—at the beginning of a hand. You needn’t be precise about it. A good estimate is all that’s needed to help you avoid the dangers of playing too small a hand for too much money, or playing too weak a hand to survive as a short stack specialist.

By Lou Krieger

Poker is a game based on information availability. We don’t ever know for sure how good or bad another player’s hand is, often until it’s too late. But because poker is a game of human interaction, we sometimes receive clues from other players, based on changes in their betting patterns or their physical demeanour, which indicates the strength or weakness of their hand. These are called “poker tells”.

A player gains an advantage if he observes and understands the meaning of another player’s tell, particularly if the poker tell is unconscious and reliable. Sometimes a player may even fake a tell, hoping to induce his opponents to make poor judgments in response to the false poker tell. After all, poker is a game of deception.
The Two Forms of Poker Tells

Poker tells come in two forms;

    Betting patterns
    Physical tells

Betting patterns are the most dependable poker tells. By studying the way a player bets both past and present, you will have more information and be better able to judge whether to check or bet. Betting patterns will remain your main tells.

Physical tells, many of which are dramatized in movies and television, are the most fun and will be the focus of this lesson.
Obviously these are only applicable to live poker, where they can help a player win some crucial pots over a lifetime. Unless you are a savant, learning and analyzing a cluster of tells does take some work.
Spotting Accurate Poker Tells is Hard

What makes tells hard to implement is the way they vary from player to player. For example, a player may throw his chips into the pot with force, and then leave his hands out near the action. For most players this means a big hand, for other players, it is a bluff. Some poker tells are false, many are contradictory, and some are just downright unreliable. There is no magic to it.

As you make observation a habit, you will learn to sift through these multiple tells and notice that the first tell is very often genuine, and the shortest tell is the most reliable. Most long, drawn out tells are false, set up to confuse. We have all seen a Hollywood tell as someone makes a screwed up face of displeasure and then bets! The general rule is that weakness usually means strength, and strength usually means weakness. But, you must decide how much weight to give a tell at any given moment. If you make learning tells fun, it will be an ever-changing, exciting part of your poker arsenal.
A List of Common Poker Tells

There are many types of poker tells. The lists that follow in this lesson should only be used as a general guide. The reliability of each varies, and guessing the reliability of each poker tell is an art form. Many tells mean strong with one player and weak with another, it is up to you to tell the difference by being observant.
Poker tells before the cards are in the air

    Watch how players buy in. Do they buy in for a full rack or a short one?
    If a player buys his chips in a loud, flamboyant, money waving act, he will likely play that way.
    A conservative approach to dressing often means a conservative style of poker.
    Sloppy chips stack, usually means sloppy play.
    Do they handle their chips like they know what they’re doing, or do they fumble around like a rank amateur?

Poker tells that may indicate a strong hand

    Fluid speech.
    Shaking hands.
    Full relaxed lips.
    A full, ear to ear, relaxed smile.
    Eyes open, not blinking.
    Stares at flop, and then glance out of corner of eye at players.
    Blood pressure is up. Red in the face or throbbing vain in neck or head.
    Drawing in a big breath, nose flaring, and rapid breathing usually mean ready for action.
    Glancing at chip stacks (their own or yours) to see how much to bet.
    Impatient, wants to bet.
    Suddenly sits back in chair, relaxed, calling or betting.
    Suddenly sits up in chair, becomes very attentive.
    A player’s hands or fingers going closer toward the action, toward the middle of the table.
    Anything held up in the air, shoulders, head, nose, fingers, thumbs, or eyebrows arching.
    Sliding chips delicately, quietly into the pot.
    Look at flop then glancing intensely at players.
    Cheek muscles start to flex.
    Some players try to act relaxed, looking off at a TV or a waitress, and then betting.
    Pupils of eyes get bigger.
    Protecting hole cards more than normal.
    Acting weak by making a noise, sighing or shrugging as they call or raise. (Why give away information when you do not have to? This one is a classic “weakness means strength”.)

Remember, some of these poker tells are more reliable than others. While most poker experts suggest you watch your opponent’s eyes, I suggest looking at his hands. That trembling hand syndrome is usually the sign of a good hand, and it’s the kind of tell that can’t easily be controlled either, so it’s generally reliable.
Poker tells that may indicate a weak hand

    Incoherent, forced, high pitched, slow, broken, or unnatural speech.
    Holding breath and not moving.
    Putting chips into the pot with great force.
    Staring right at you. (Strength means weakness.)
    Picking up a handful of chips like they will go into the pot if you bet.
    Play acting like they are going to turn their cards over prematurely.
    Checking hole cards after flop.
    Treating their hole cards carelessly.
    Inhales when misses and stares blankly into space.
    Breaths through mouth when worried.
    Licking or sticking out lips.
    Lips tense, and get smaller.
    Upper lip develop stiffens.
    Biting lip.
    Tongue in cheek.
    Covers mouth.
    Eyes squinting.
    Eyes blinking.
    Eyeballs rolling.
    Hand over eyes.
    A fake smile.
    Nail biting.
    Hugging oneself.
    Hands and arms go toward the body, toward safety.
    Rubbing of hands, arms, legs, neck, hair, nose, lips, and chin, to pacify oneself.
    Nervously pressing and wring ones hands till knuckles turn white.
    If they stop riffling chips, shaking leg, grinding teeth, tapping, chewing toothpick or gum.

That’s quite a list. Pick a few and see if you can spot any tells next time you play live poker. Now let’s look at some of the fundamentals to successfully spotting tells and other factors you need to consider.
Beginner Poker Tells

It’s important to recognize that beginners will not go to great lengths to confuse you with reverse tells. Don’t read too much into their bet timing or the body language they are giving off. If you are going to look for tells, just know that the most obvious ones are going to be the most accurate.
Online Poker Tells

Since you can’t physically see your opponents when playing online, the physical tells we’ve mentioned are clearly not going to apply. Remember though, that betting patterns are the most reliable of all poker tells. Look out for changes in a player’s betting pattern and observe their timing. A large amount of time before calling can sometimes mean a weak hand, and a fast call usually means a drawing hand. However, timing tells aren’t always reliable, since for all you know the online player is also reading a book, watching TV, or rushing back from the bathroom.
Practice is the Key

Looking for poker tells does not come naturally for most of us. But, after a while you will observe the flow and motion of the table, sifting through countless confusing bits of information, calculating whether to check or bet, all the while relaxing, having fun, talking, ordering drinks, and doing some cheap chip tricks. Once you learn to read the cards (mathematical odds and technical aspect) what is left? Reading people!

You can’t study everyone and everything at once. So focus attention on individual players during your poker session, and never fail to watch a showdown while replaying what you observed during the hand and correlate it with the hands the combatants turn up. The very best time to study your opponents is when they’re involved in a hand and you’re not.

Practice is the key to reading any tell. Whether you are a trained observer in poker or a trained criminal scene investigator (CSI), the key word is trained. Learning the poker tells listed above all at one time is difficult. It is more fun to learn a couple every time you play. For an example, one night at your casino, home or bar game pick a player and watch his energy levels. While he won’t go from nearly comatose to sitting bolt upright in his seat, most players do shuffle around in their chair and sit upright when they have a good hand – or at least a hand they intend to play. Watch everyone’s posture all night and it will become a habit and you will ‘train’ yourself to be observant at the table.

Another way to train yourself is to observe just one or two players for the first 10 minutes and then gradually add other players to the mix. Start with the player closest to you, because they are the ones that affect your play the most. For instance, can you tell if the players to your left are going to fold or raise? Can you tell if the opponents on your immediate right are calling with a big hand or just want to see a cheap flop? Here’s a tip – players with cards cocked in their hand who look like they’re ready to pitch them to the dealer when it’s their turn to act usually do just that. It’s not a universal poker tell, but it’s accurate more often than not.
Setting Up False Poker Tells

You do not want to give off tells, so watch yourself. Do you lean toward the action when you have a good hand? Try this – when you have a marginal hand (such as JT on the button) sit up in your chair, be obvious, squirm around a little, raise the pot, and look at the other players. Notice who looks at you. You just gave them a false tell. They think you have a big hand. Bet the flop and watch them fold. Note which players are not sophisticated enough to notice your Academy Award performance, and be aware of the players that do not ’seem’ to notice but are thinking, was that for real, and who is this hot dog.
Don’t Overestimate the Importance of Tells

Some poker players spend way too much time searching for unconscious poker tells and greatly overestimate there importance. Every poker player knows that they are supposed to hide their emotions and disguise their true intentions. Even people who don’t play poker know this. Sure, some players will exhibit obvious physical tells from time to time, but the conscious things that poker players do at the table are of far greater significance.

Focus on the bigger picture first and categorize your opponents. Are they tight-aggressive? Are they loose-passive? How tricky are they? Putting players into broad categories that define their playing style and tendencies will help you far more than concentrating on the small and unconscious things.
Conclusion

Physical poker tells are nowhere near as important as studying betting patterns and playing styles. Once you have mastered these then, and only then should you look for the classic poker tells that many players exhibit. But tells are fun, and very few players concentrate on this part of the game – so you will have an advantage. Granted, poker tells will not make you money on every hand or every hour, but over time, they will add to your profitability. In any business, if you could increase profits you’d be very happy.

By David Sasseman

One of the most exciting hands to flop is three-of-a-kind. When I flop a set or trips, my primary goal is to figure out how to get as many chips as possible from my opponent. Naturally, though, there are many things to consider, starting with the type of three-of-a-kind that presents itself.

For those of you who are new to poker, I would first like to clarify the difference between a “set” and “trips.” A set is a three-of-a-kind made with a pocket pair and one community card. Trips is a three-of-a-kind made with one of your hole cards and a pair on the board. This vocabulary distinction is not important when it comes to how you play the hand, but rather when describing the action to somebody. The listener will understand what happened better if you use the terms “set” and “trips” appropriately rather than interchangeably. Read more…

Having a big stack in a poker tournament is not the solution to your problems, despite the confidence that it (quite naturally) fills you with. When you get a larger stack, your playing style needs to change accordingly and move from being a tight aggressive player to working with more hands and loosening up your game. Then, later in the tournament, your stack is the single best asset you have.

Early On: Looser Calls, Play Aggressive

To keep your lead in a no limit tournament (or, indeed, any tournament,) you have to keep putting more chips in your bankroll. If you've established a lead early on in the tournament (and indeed, as you are playing in the middle stages), don't be afraid to start making make looser calls from the flop, limping in hoping to hit a nut hand. Later in the tournament, you may leave hands like 67 or 78 to the side, but if you can afford to gamble a bit with your chips and be more aggressive, don't be timid.
Read more…

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