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Always Come Prepared With Information

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Jan 11, 2012

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Bernard LeeThis past summer, during the 2011 World Series of Poker main event, ESPN set a new standard with its virtually-live television coverage. During the latter stages of the main event and the final table, viewers were able to see the players’ hole cards within 30 minutes of the actual hand being played. Now, poker players who may have never experienced and/or participated in a large buy-in tournament could witness how the event unfolded hand-by-hand.

This unprecedented coverage also changed how the players themselves proceeded in the tournament. Players would now be able to determine whether they had made the correct decision just moments after the hand was played. Additionally, the players would be able to study the “game film” afterward to decipher any tells or patterns evinced by their opponents.

2011 November-Niner Matt Giannetti explained that he immediately went home after playing and diligently watched the tournament coverage, “because any small thing could make a big difference.” Believing these studies were more valuable than extra sleep, Giannetti utilized this data to make the final table, and, ultimately finish fourth at the 2011 WSOP main event.

Current Card Player 2011 Player of the Year leader, Ben Lamb, also capitalized on this newly found information source by getting friends to text him during the event. “Having this near live 30-minute delay, everyone was having all the hands that they were in texted to them…trying to get all the information you can. You are playing for this much money, obviously you need all the information in the world.” Additionally, Lamb not only went home at the end of the day to review the ESPN coverage, but also studied during the two-hour dinner breaks. “I would go home, eat and study to try to pick up on anything,” recalled Lamb.

Overall, poker has always been a game of imperfect information. Any data gathered by a player will definitely be beneficial in their quest to outplay their opponent and ultimately become the winner.

Now, unless you are fortunate to make it deep in the WSOP main event, you will not be able to take advantage of this ESPN coverage. However, this does not preclude you from gathering information about your opponents during another tournament. I’ll show you what I do in every event that I play throughout the year.

Back in April 2010, I did an interview for Card Player TV about tournament preparation (http://www.cardplayer.com/cptv/channels/3-strategy/poker-videos/4095-poker-strategy-bernard-lee-on-preparing-for-tournaments). I feel most players arrive unprepared to tournaments on second days and beyond. They have worked on their poker game, but did they research their opponents prior to coming to the table?

If I am fortunate to survive the first day of a tournament, my first priority is to investigate every player at my next day’s table to formulate a game plan. The table draw is usually available in the morning, but in larger buy-in events, this information is sometimes ready about an hour after we finish play for the night. I will research all of my opponents’ career stats (including number of cashes, career earnings, number of final tables, number of tournament wins, largest buy-in amount, average buy-in amount, etc.), news stories mentions, twitter accounts and anything else I can gather. All of this information is readily available online.

These scouting reports have been extremely helpful over the years, since they provide insight into how certain players may play, and they also help me to develop a strategy for the next day.

Let me give you a real-life example:

In this tournament, I was returning as an average stack on day three of a World Poker Tour main event. When we returned, we were only ten spots out of the money, which had a minimum cash of about $20,000. After looking at my table draw, there were a couple of top pros who everybody knew, but there was one young online pro’s name that stood out to me. I would not have recognized him by face, but knew of his name and reputation online. Thus, I chose to be very wary of his play when we started back up.

Additionally, there was another player who became the focal point of my research. In his late twenties, he had only five career cashes over four years, none of which were over $2,500. His career earnings were about $6,000 and his highest finish in a tournament was eighth place. He had never cashed in a $10,000 or higher buy-in event.

My strategy was to attack his big blind (I would be sitting in the hijack seat) every chance I could and to also three-bet him, because I believed that he would desperately want to make the money. Sure enough, he constantly looked at the clock the entire day, obviously willing the number of players to decrease. I followed through with my plan by three-betting him twice and raising his big blind six times. Overall, this strategy allowed me to build up my stack on the bubble without much resistance. In the end, my opponent survived the money bubble and was thrilled to cash, but was eliminated shortly thereafter. As for me, I survived day three easily, but was unfortunately eliminated on day four.

Here is another example:

Playing day one of a World Series of Poker Circuit event, with about an hour left to go, I was moved to a new table. The chipleader at this table was a local, older gentleman who I had never seen before, but who was clearly in a jovial mood. Due to his somewhat goofy persona, I gained the impression that this man had gotten very lucky all day, and that I might be able to easily outplay him if the opportunity presented itself.
After the day ended, I noticed that this same man would be sitting at my table on day two. Ever diligent in my research, I looked up this man’s statistics and was I completely shocked. He had a very impressive resumé, with over fifty cashes in the past six years, having made numerous final tables and winning three titles during his career.

He had earned over $1 million, been written up a few times on cardplayer.com and had cashed in several $10,000 buy-in main events, including twice at the WSOP. Armed with this knowledge, I did not try to get tricky with him on day two as we both made the final table; however, I watched him take out three players who simply bluffed away their chips to him. Since this tournament, I have befriended him and he readily admitted that he utilizes his personality to induce players, especially those in the younger generation, to call him.

Of course, even after you do all this research, the game plan could change. Players can be quickly eliminated, your table could be first to break, or you could be moved to another table. But, is this reason enough not to do the research? Wouldn’t you want this valuable information even for a few hands? And besides, even if you did move, a quick smartphone search can reveal your new table’s information on the fly.

Overall, my message is simple: Come to the poker table prepared. If you worked at a company and you came to meeting unprepared, your boss would be very disappointed. Why do this at poker table? It may require you to do some additional work, but in the long run, it will definitely be more profitable to you.

So the next time you are at the same table as me (on day two or beyond), will you know who I am? I will definitely know who you are. ♠

Bernard Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald, ESPN.com and radio host of “The Bernard Lee Poker Show,” which can be found on RoundersRadio.com or via podcast on iTunes. Follow Bernard Lee on Twitter: @BernardLeePoker or visit him at www.BernardLeePoker.com.