Poker Strategy -- Head Games With Vanessa Rousso, Liv Boeree and Maria Ho
Never Underestimate a Good Woman
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Sometimes it’s hard to get a straight answer from a professional poker player. Ask three players a question and you’re liable to get three different answers. Why? Because, the answer depends. It depends on the situation, opponent, stack sizes, table image, tilt, metagame, and so on.
Head Games will peer deep inside the complex minds of today’s top players. We’ll reveal why they do what they do in sticky situations, especially when it comes down to making a critical decision for a major tournament title or calling a check-raise all in on the river holding only ace high for a $500,000 pot. Let the games begin.
Craig Tapscott: All three of you are very successful players, regardless of gender. Still, there are specific questions to be asked of you in this male-dominated game that can benefit all players. First, please share a few of the ways that you profile men at the table and then take advantage of weaknesses they may exhibit.
Vanessa Rousso: I would say that, nowadays, being a well-known pro affects people’s play against me much more than the fact that I’m a woman. However, when I was learning the game back in 2004 and 2005, I remember that [my gender] was definitely a factor. I encountered different types of men at the table — those who underestimated me, those who treated me like their little sister, and those who wanted a date. Though I will say that, across the board, the most lucrative situation that would arise would be when I was able to show a bluff against a man. I used to joke that these guys had such egos that whenever I showed them a bluff, that tilted them to the point that they were always knocked out within two hours of play.
Liv Boeree: Profiling players at the table, regardless of gender, is obviously one of the most important things a player needs to do. When it comes to men, in particular, if I have acquired no information about their playing style, I tend to initially categorize them by age. From my experience, older men are more likely to try to soft-play a woman, perhaps due to some ingrained form of chivalry. Some even go so far as to flirt with a female opponent. Conversely, the younger wave of online players is much more likely to view a female opponent as a soft target and will try to run her over. This second group is obviously harder to combat, but the first step is looking for situations in which they are likely to be trying to apply pressure. They think females are less capable of three-betting and four-betting light both preflop and postflop, so be prepared to do that against a man you suspect has fixed a target on your head. Also, be prepared to slow-play your monsters more than you would normally.
Maria Ho: Sometimes you run into that player who wants to bust you just so they can say they busted the pro at the table, which doesn’t have as much to do with me being a female as it does with me being a known player. One of my biggest strengths is being able to categorize players, then adjust and adapt to things that they are doing, and then use it to my advantage. When I feel like my abilities at the table are being underestimated by a player, I find myself bluffing that player more often, mainly because they don’t think I’m capable of betting without a hand. Poker is a game of maximizing even the smallest of edges, and I think that using false perceptions other people may have of you because you are a female is something that I look to exploit and capitalize on.
Craig Tapscott: Can you share any specific strategy examples in which being a female player was a huge advantage in a hand versus a male player?
Vanessa Rousso: Sometimes you get lucky enough to be at a table with a guy who thinks women are incapable of bluffing. This usually becomes clear when they continually fold to your bets. When this happens, floating is a great option to extract extra equity out of your opponent when you find yourself in a hand against them — preferably heads up in the hand, and in position. The best way to execute this move is to flat-call his bet on a wet flop (a very draw-heavy flop). Then, if and when a scare-card hits the turn and he checks to you — or, even if there is no scare card, and he checks and indicates weakness — you now take the lead in the hand with a bet. This should win you the pot right there about 70 percent of the time. However, sometimes another barrel on the river is necessary to get him off the hand. Just be careful not to get caught doing this, as once you show down the bluff, you have lost all of the edge you had versus that player in terms of the excess credibility you were being given previously.
Liv Boeree: A good example was in the six-max event at the WSOP Europe last year. It was the early-mid stages of the tournament, and I’d moved to a very tough, aggressive table of young, competent online whizzes. Of course, six-max is a much looser game, but I noticed the young guy on my immediate left was clearly desperate to find spots to three-bet me, and the guy behind him was looking for a time to four-bet his light three-bet. Therefore I opened up my four-betting frequency for when the second guy didn’t come over the top, and also got two light five-bets through in a short period of time, which were hugely important to my stack. These guys were absolutely the type I’ve discussed above and gave me credit for a hand each time, such was their belief that a woman isn’t four- and five-betting light. On a further note, some of the younger, less socially adjusted guys who are new on the live scene often find a woman’s scrutinizing gaze more uncomfortable than a man’s and can give off tells that they wouldn’t otherwise. In a WSOP prelim this year, there was a young lad on my left who was three-bet happy, but he was the easiest read in the world, as he’d flush like a beacon when bluffing if I stared at him!
Maria Ho: Pretty early on in my poker career, I was playing the $10-$20 no-limit cash games on a regular basis at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. There was one guy, in particular, who on several occasions had openly said in front of me that he doesn’t think women are good at poker, and that they shouldn’t be playing since it was a losing proposition for them. During several different sessions, I noticed that he would call about 90 percent of my raises, and I had caught him trying to bluff me on several occasions. I knew that eventually all I had to do was slow-play a big hand against him on a board that was super coordinated and scary, and that he would lose all of his chips trying to get me to fold. I finally got my opportunity when I open-raised to $55 from middle position with J 10, and he reraised from the cutoff to $140. I knew that I could get him to stack off against me if I hit a favorable flop. I called, and the flop came K Q 9. Usually on such coordinated boards I would play my hand a little faster, since that usually hits a lot of hands in someone’s three-betting range, which would ensure maximum value. But since this guy had a history of three betting me, specifically with a much wider range of hands, I decided that slow-playing and seeming weak was the best play. I had a good feeling he would triple-barrel me if he thought it would make me fold. Long story short, I check-called every street, knowing full well that the stack sizes dictated that the pot would be big enough on the river where he would shove to try to get me to fold on the end. When I check-called his all-in bet on the river, his hand just went flying into the muck.
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