An Idiot's Guide To Poker: Working towards a house in the Med


Last week, I spoke about travelling around the whole of the UK playing in cash games. That was my plan. This week, I'm in the Mediterranean painting houses. I have little-to-no idea how this has happened. What I do know, however, is that painting houses in the Mediterranean is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds. Nor is it as easy. Every bit of me aches: arms, legs, back, fingers, face, eyes. Who would have thought that painting houses would make your eyes hurt? No-one, that's who, but it's true.

Still, there are benefits. The main benefit is that it's giving me plenty of time to reassess my poker game. The key to getting through a day of painting is to pretend you're not there. Each day, as the paint sinks into the walls, I sink into poker land. I wrestle the previous evening's hands to the ground, trying to figure out what I did wrong and right. My game, it seems, is still peppered with holes: I become too sparrow-like and clam up around the bubble, I needlessly tangle with table bullies, my c-bet percentage is still lower than I'd like, my concentration wavers in crucial spots and so on and so forth. 

One area that I've decided to give immediate attention to is value betting on the river. Often I'll leave a ton of value on the table here with what is the best hand. Suppose I'm holding pocket jacks on a non-flushing board with no obvious straights: Q-T-8-8-4, say. If I've bet out on the flop and been called, I'll often check it down to showdown. This is horrible and I know it's horrible but I'm often just happy to win the hand. Pre-flop, flop and turn are all sexy and exciting and full of anticipation and by the river I'm often worn out and just feel like a lie down. Hence the checking.

So I need to be more dynamic and not lie down by the river. In the above hand if I bet, say, half to two-thirds of the pot on the river I'm often getting called by a ten with any kicker, nines, sevens - even, against some opponents who I have a particularly saucy history with, by AK. 

Ah but, I hear you cry, what if in the above example I get my jacks check-raised - what should I do? Answer: God knows. It's almost always opponent-dependent, but certainly in the lower levels if you're getting check-raised on the river you were probably beaten anyway. In the long term, if your reading of opponents and board texture are decent, you'll be making more money by value betting thin and semi-thin on the river than you lose by folding to check-raises or getting looked up by marginally stronger hands.

Earlier today I took down a 100-odd runner tournament. One hand stands out. In the early-middle stages I pick up AK in the big blind. A competent regular raises three times the big blind (150) from the button. I re-raise to 450 and he flat calls. The flop comes down a dreary 4-2-7. He checks. He's likely to c-bet with any pocket pair or strongish draw here and I suspect I'm ahead but I'm reasonably happy to just check behind. The turn is another seven. He checks, I check. The river is a ten. He checks again. 

Now, normally here although pretty sure I was ahead I'd just check, happy to scoop up the chips in the middle. Not anymore. Sensing that he could make a call with any weak ace or even KQ I bet half the pot. He called with AJ and I momentarily looked - and felt - like a poker genius. I put winning that tournament down to - in part - that hand and the confidence it gave me. A few more thousand value bets on the river like that, and I'll be paying someone else to paint my own house in the Mediterranean. 

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