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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Boot Camp: Rethinking the Rules of Poker

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I'm no poker expert - and if you've seen me play this last year, you'd nod your head in agreement.

So what I've tried to do to the best of my ability is follow some of the basic rules of poker. Many of them have helped me navigate the increasingly rough waters of online poker at Pokerstars or Full Tilt. Some, such as my M rating in tournaments, playing in position and the Gap Concept (you must have a much stronger hand to call a raise than to raise) have served me well.

But in the shifting land of poker, some of the rules that served me well in the past didn't really serve me well this year. Let's go through a few examples of the rules that used to serve me well, and how they are changing, at least for me.

1. Holdem is where the fish swim - Even at .10/.25 NLHoldem, there aren't many fish any longer. It's hard not to find rocky tables, and many times you'll put your name on the waiting list of a loose table online, only to find the fish that made it so were snapped up when you get there, leaving you a table full of sharks (maybe they're only barracudas at the .10/.25 level, but still, you get the idea).

But at Omaha, well, the water's just fine, boys. There are so many Holdem players who want to try something new and are willing to put in all their money with K-K-x-x, the lower end of a straight or even something like a small two pair. I've even seen some lose a lot of money with TPTK.

New Rule: Omaha is where the fish swim.

2. Aggression is the key - The games online are so aggressive these days that I've found that playing sound, straightforward poker is still profitable at the lower limits. This might contradict my first rule, but it really doesn't. These players aren't bad. They're just a little too aggressive. That's challenging, and I'm sure I've been pushed off some pots that were rightfully mine, but I've also found that patience can really pay off if I wait for an aggressive player to shove into me when I clearly have the best hand.

This is especially true at Omaha, where players still don't understand that it's OK to just call in Omaha and see if their flopped straight is still good by the turn. And they will push mediocre hands like two pair way too hard.

New rule: Aggression is still a good trait, but patience is just as important.

3. Always raise with A-A - I swore by this rule until recently, when I found that every time I got it in early position, I'd win the blinds and that was it, or I'd have to throw it away when three or four players called my raise and the board was dangerous.

You probably know that A-A is a great hand pre-flop and not quite as good post-flop. Again, this is especially true in Omaha.

So I've taken to just limping if I have A-A UTG or in another early spot, and when the inevitable raise comes, I like to re-pop the raiser. This not only usually means I'll get heads-up with one opponent, which is what you want with Aces, but sometimes the raiser will shove on me because he doesn't like to be pushed around, a raise I'll gladly call.

This doesn't always work. Sometimes no one raises and I'm stuck five-handed with just a pair. And sometimes everyone will fold to my re-raise because the move does, in fact, scream A-A. I don't consider either of these a bad result. I have the discipline to fold my A-A to action on the flop if there's too many players, and I also don't mind taking down a decent pot before I have to play them post-flop.

New rule: When you get A-A in early position, you might limp rather than raise.

4. The check-raise is a good way to get more money in the pot with a monster - I love it when my opponents check-raise me and I've got something like top pair. Unless I've got a good read on him, or I have a monster myself, it's an easy fold for me. When I try the move myself, it almost always shuts down the action rather than encourages it.

These days I prefer to use the check-raise with a marginal hand like top pair with a weaker kicker, two pair on a dangerous board or as an outright bluff. I've found that straightforward play with my monsters, such as a bet, disguises them much more effectively.

New rule: Use the check-raise as a bluff or to protect marginal hands, not as a way to get more money in the pot.

5. Always continuation bet on a dry board - There's no doubt c-bets are a huge leak in my game. I always seem to do them at the wrong time. But that's because my opponents all know what c-bets are now, and if I raise in early position and the board comes 6-9-3, my opponent puts me on a high Ace, like A-K, and will check-raise me to make sure I want to put money into the pot with no pair, no draw. I've done the same thing myself. At the very least I will float the flop and see if they really want to follow up with another bet on the turn.

Lately I've battled this by limiting my c-bets or not doing them much at all, and that's not good either. This is something I'll continue to work on, but I also think my opponents are struggling with it as well.

New rule: Automatic c-bets don't work any longer. Choose when to use them wisely.

6. Play through the bad streaks - Hey, it's just variance, right? Bad streaks are inevitable. Just keep playing and things will turn around.

Man, did this advice cost me some money this year. Bad streaks are a part of poker, but they continue when you do things you normally wouldn't because you're frustrated.

These include shoving with overpairs (because surely someone didn't suck out and flop a set against your A-A AGAIN), taking two pair way too far or pushing with straights or flushes on a paired board.

They also include betting way too hard with your monsters because your'e so afraid that someone will outdraw you for the 5,735th time in a row, and that means you're leaving a lot of value on the table.

When you're frustrated, you're not playing optimal poker. Take a break instead.

New rule: When you're on a bad streak, you need to take a break until you can play better. This might mean a couple days, a week or a month.

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