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The Inside Straight

by CP The Inside Straight Authors |  Published: Aug 29, 2007

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Man Triumphs Over Machine in Computer Poker Exhibition
Phil Laak and Ali Eslami Stand Up for the Human Race
By Bob Pajich

Poker pros Phil Laak and Ali Eslami recently traveled to Vancouver, BC, where the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference took place, to face a computer program designed to beat the best poker players in the world.

In the limited two-day exhibition, the humans came out on top.

Laak and Eslami were invited to the conference by the group of programmers at the University of Alberta who have a department dedicated to building computers that can beat humans at games. Recently, the school found its way into headlines all over the world when it announced that it had "solved" checkers. This means that they built a program, called Chinook, that can never be beat at checkers. It will always either win or draw.

The poker bot that Laak and Eslami played, called Polaris, specializes in one very distinct form of poker: heads-up limit hold'em. And like most scientific competitions, there was money on the line.

Here's how the two-day competition worked: The players played four 500-hand sessions of $10-$20 limit hold'em in two days. If the humans won a total of 25 small bets or more from Polaris in each session, they split $5,000. If neither the computer nor the humans managed to win 25 small bets, the session was considered a draw and the humans split $2,500. If the humans swept all four sessions, they would split $50,000. If Polaris came out 25 small bets or more ahead in any session, the humans got nothing.

Both players played simultaneously - one in front of an audience and one in a private room - and they played a form of duplicate poker. This means that the cards dealt to Laak against the computer in any match were dealt to the computer that Eslami played in the same match.

After the first day's two matches, Laak seemed to be ready to throw in the towel.

"(Polaris) is phenomenal. They just spent all their (freaking) time perfecting heads-up limit poker," Laak said. "That thing just beat us."

The first session ended with Eslami and Laak squeaking out a profit of seven small bets (Eslami won $465, but Laak lost $395) for the tie, but the second session was won outright by Polaris, which beat the players by $950.

Laak soon learned that this program was much better than the one he beat two years ago as the human representative at the World Poker Robot Championship. Polaris, which has been in development since 1991, is designed to bob and weave like a real player, adjusting to a player's styles and recognizing weakness. Polaris plays such perfect heads-up poker that it's main strategy is the same as that of many pros: It tries to play basic solid poker and wait until its opponent makes a mistake.

"That basically defines my entire net worth," Laak said. "It's always thinking like this: I will break even."

But day two was a different story for the humans. In the third session, Laak won $1,455 while Eslami lost $635, which gave the humans a profit of 82 small bets for the win. In the last match, Eslami won $460 and Laak won $110, giving them a 57 small-bet victory.

The final tally: humans, two wins and a tie; Polaris, one win.

Laak said it wasn't easy. He said he deliberated every post-flop decision for about five minutes, to make sure that he was making the right move. And he also said the humans got together the night before and talked about how they could beat the machine. It took brain power and patience.

Laak and Eslami didn't attend the symposium only for the money. They both say that they love to be around smart people, and Jonathan Schaeffer, the chairman of this project, and his team definitely qualify. For that matter, so do Laak and Eslami.

"These guys are superb. They're friendly, they're outgoing, they're inquisitive. We consider these players to be very dangerous for us, because they do understand the mathematics that are going on," Schaeffer said. "It's very impressive. I'm in awe of the depth of their insights."

Schaeffer said he was "delighted" with the competition, and looks forward to future matches with Laak, who described himself as a Geekaphile and has sort of become a member of the research team. The pleasure, Laak said, is all his.



Debbie Burkhead Wins Third LIPS Grand Championship
Ladies International Poker Series Tour Hit Orleans Open Recently
By Kristy Arnett


The Ladies International Poker Series Tour held its third-annual Grand Championship tournament at the Orleans Open in Las Vegas recently.

A total of 289 women entered the $330 buy-in no-limit hold'em ladies championship. The prize pool was $83,230, much of which was donated to Breast Cancer Angels, which is an organization that assists women without insurance who are suffering from breast cancer. Those who cashed were asked to donate 5 percent of their winnings to the organization.

One of the women who donated to the foundation was 25-year-old Pamela Bigelow.

"I appreciate the cause. I also think ladies tournaments are great because a lot of women who don't get a chance to play can do so. I personally like playing in open events, but I enjoy playing with just women, as well," said Bigelow.

She won her trip to Las Vegas for the LIPS Grand Championship by taking down a LIPS event at Canterbury Park Casino. She is one of the many LIPS champions who made the final table.

Before final-table play began, the nine women decided to do a by-the-chips chop, but reserved the trophy and $2,055 of the prize pool for first place. In the end, it was Debbie Burkhead who won. She is a longtime poker player from Las Vegas.

The LIPS Tour began in 2004 and has been gaining momentum ever since. It includes more than 40 partner casinos that host LIPS events, as well as numerous home leagues throughout the country.

"When it comes to women, they are really coming into their own. They are still the fastest-growing demographic in poker. Whatever we can do to help women in this industry, we want to do it," said Lupe Soto, founder of LIPS. "Women are not only playing more, but they are beginning to win with significant success."

Card Player has recently partnered with LIPS in an effort to provide in-depth women's poker content, as well as strengthen new programs, including a worldwide women's player ranking system for ladies-only events and a woman player of the year award.

All of this and more can be found in a new section on the CardPlayer.com home page titled LIPSTOUR.



U.S. NETELLER Customers Receiving Monies
Funds Started Flowing 24 Hours After Withdrawal Requests
By Bob Pajich


The saga is over for disgruntled American NETELLER customers who had to wait more than six months to withdraw their bankrolls from the embattled eWallet.

On July 30, U.S. customers began to log on to their NETELLER accounts and request withdrawals. The next day, some of the $94 million that was frozen as NETELLER officials and the U.S. Attorney's office worked out an agreement already had hit bank accounts.

After months of debating lawsuits and forming boards, members of the Neteller Customer Coalition (NCC), a group made up of 817 members who have kept each other posted about the NETELLER case through a group on Yahoo!, reported that they received their money less than 24 hours after they requested withdrawals.

Members also shared tips and warnings, like this one: Members with balances on their NETELLER debit cards need to contact the NETELLER debit-card department and have them transfer the remaining balances into their regular accounts in order to have the money counted.

Members also warned people that if they're located outside the U.S., they will not be able to access their accounts.

Other than that, NCC members thanked each other for their support, and virtually cheered that the debacle that began with the arrests of NETELLER's co-founders in January is over.

Customers have until Jan. 26, 2008, to request withdrawals.



California Man Circulates Petition for Online Poker Site
Needs 430,000 Signatures by December
By Bob Pajich


A California man has launched a petition that would allow state voters to decide if California should establish a state-owned online poker site.

Anthony Sandstrom submitted the proper forms to California state offices that allow him to circulate his petition, which is called Initiative for Potholes Repair Funded by a California State-Owned Online Poker Site. He needs to collect 430,000 names by December for his initiative to be placed on a statewide ballot.

The initiative calls for 90 percent of the money that the state would make from online poker to go toward repairing potholes and "broken streets." The other 10 percent would go to the California Gambling Addiction Program Fund.

Sandstrom is truly a one-man show. Californians who fill out the petition will send it to his post office box. He will sort the petitions according to the county of the residents, and then around Dec. 1, he will Fed Ex the petitions to the correct counties (if he has enough).

With no budget, Sandstrom is counting on word-of-mouth and the Internet to help spread the word about his petition drive.

"This is me, myself, and I. The hard part is just going to be getting eyeballs to the website," he said.

Getting an initiative on California's ballot is a fairly easy task. Sandstrom, who is a 62-year-old mechanical engineer from San Diego, had to spend some time educating himself about the language he needed to use to get the initiative approved by the attorney general's office. Once that was done, he was ready to start collecting signatures.

The petition drive started on July 27, and he said that he'd like to collect about 550,000 signatures to ensure that the initiative will end up on next summer's ballot.

People interested in signing or learning more about the petition should visit his website: http://www.caonlinepoker.org. All of the details, as well as full text of the initiative, can be found there.



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Season Four of High Stakes Poker to Premiere Aug. 27
Episodes Show Players Sitting With $500,000 Each
By Bob Pajich


The fourth season of High Stakes Poker starts on Monday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m., on GSN, and poker fans should expect more big-time poker action from some of the most entertaining and talented players in the business.

Season four features a return of Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, Jamie Gold, Antonio Esfandiari, Sammy Farha, David Benyamine, Patrik Antonius, Jennifer Harman, Phil Laak, and a bunch of others.

This edition of High Stakes Poker will feature 17 episodes and will climax with the biggest cash game ever filmed. On the final day of filming, nine players bought in for $500,000 each. The sight of so much money on the table was astounding, and it makes for some of the best poker TV anywhere.

An episode from season three is aired at 8 p.m. before the new show, and an episode from season two is aired right after it. The new episode repeats Thursday nights at 9 p.m.

Card Player was there, and will feature High Stakes Poker on the cover of the next issue.



Ladies Night
Vegas Strip Casinos Hold Weekly Ladies Tournaments
By Kristy Arnett


Las Vegas Strip casinos are looking to bank on the growing popularity of poker among women by holding weekly ladies tournaments.

Caesars Palace holds a $75 buy-in ladies tournament every Tuesday at 6 p.m. Players receive $2,500 in starting chips and have 30-minute levels for the blinds. Every week, the winner is awarded a seat in the $300 buy-in ladies event of the Caesars Palace Classic tournament on Oct. 21. The money for the seat comes out of the casino's pocket, not the prize pool.

At Planet Hollywood, the ladies tournament begins at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. It has a $40 buy-in and a 50-player maximum. Registration begins at 4 p.m. Since the tournament generally sells out, ladies must get there early. The starting chip stack is $2,000 and the blinds increase every 15 minutes.

If Tuesday nights are not free, ladies can go to Treasure Island on Mondays for a $60 buy-in ladies tournament that begins at 7 p.m. Players begin with $2,000 in chips and play 20-minute rounds.



Strip Poker: Free Money at Wynn Las Vegas
$100,000 Freeroll for Players With 50 Hours of Live Play
By Kristy Arnett


Aside from the 26 tables of cash games that consist of a wide variety of limits/games, players now have one more reason to bring their game to the Wynn Las Vegas poker room: $100,000.

Players who log 50 hours of live play from now until Sept. 30 are eligible to compete in a $100,000 freeroll. There are several cash games from which to choose, including $4-$8 to $30-$60 limit hold'em and $1-$3 to $10-$20 no-limit hold'em. Mixed games and higher-stakes hold'em games are played on occasion, based on interest.

The freeroll tournament will be played in a shootout format. It will begin on Oct. 2, when competitors must win a single-table tournament to move on. On Oct. 3, another round of single-table tournaments will be played. Then, the winners will form one final table, where all players are guaranteed money. The payout structure has yet to be announced, but the $100,000 prize pool is set.



Orleans Open Attracts Nearly 4,000 Entrants
Total Prize Pool $1.2 Million
By Kristy Arnett


Although there were no Mardi Gras beads, party floats, or topless women, it was still a party in the Orleans Hotel and Casino ballroom, where the 12th-annual Orleans Open poker tournament took place.

"We were very pleased with the results, considering we ran the tournament series just after the World Series of Poker ended," said Marlin Berland, a tournament director of the Orleans Open for the past nine years.

There were 13 lower buy-in preliminary events that drew the attention of thousands of players.

At the end of the series, there were three championship events, starting with a $540 buy-in Omaha eight-or-better tournament. Emily Yu triumphed over the other 166 competitors. Following that event came the $540 buy-in seven-card stud championship. Edward Im finished in first place.

The tournament concluded with a $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em championship. Out of a field of 219 players, it was James Van Alstyne who won first-place prize money of nearly $58,000. This added to his Card Player Player of the Year points; he is currently in the top 10.

The 16 events of the Orleans Open attracted approximately 3,900 entrants, which resulted in a cumulative prize pool of more than $1.2 million. Among the well-known Las Vegas regulars who cashed in these events were Marsha Waggoner, Kenna James, and Allen Kessler.

Do you know the Las Vegas poker scene better than the pros? Then e-mail us with news tips at strippoker@CardPlayer.com.



Player of the Year
Van Alstyne Continues to Flash Brilliant Poker Chops


Who knows how many of the final-table participants in the $1,000 no-limit hold'em championship event of the Orleans Open knew who they were facing when James Van Alstyne carried his tray of chips over and took his seat. Despite earning more than $2.7 million playing tournament poker ($713,212 in 2007), Van Alstyne is a player who remains out of the spotlight and in the shadows of the baseball cap that he keeps pulled down low.

Van Alstyne has been tearing up the tournament poker trail so severely this year, and continued his assault at the Orleans Open, a tournament that he ended up winning (for $57,815). So far in 2007, he's cashed 14 times, made six final tables, and won two tournaments (his other victory was in the $1,500 no-limit hold'em event the L.A. Poker Classic, for $187,895).

He started the year with a bang by coming in second in another $1,500 no-limit hold'em event at the Winter Poker Open, for $105,788, in January. By the end of February, he had won $293,683. In March, he finished fourth in the $10,000 World Poker Tour Shooting Star Championship, for $250,000.

He's fourth in the Card Player Player of the Year (POY) standings with 3,480 points, only 888 points behind longtime leader J.C. Tran.

The only blemish on his 2007 record is just a single cash during the World Series of Poker (he finished 123rd in a $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold'em event in June, which was still good for $4,484).

Van Alstyne's performance is starting to look a little bit like Men "The Master" Nguyen's run two years ago when he accumulated most of his points by winning or finishing high in a bunch of moderate buy-in events to finish the year off strong. Van Alstyne just seems to enjoy playing. Don't be surprised to see him in just about any tournament, anywhere, raking in piles of chips.

Look Out!
Kenny Tran has cashed only twice in major tournaments this year, but they both came in arguably the two toughest tournaments that will take place in 2007. First, he finished fifth in the $50,000 World Series of Poker H.O.R.S.E. world championship, where he earned $444,000 and 375 POY points, and then he outlasted 6,342 players in the WSOP main event, where he finished 16th, for $381,302.

That's not a bad month's work for anyone in any profession. Tran is mostly a cash-game player and plays very few tournaments, so he is far down in the POY standings with 519 points. However, should he decide to play more tournaments, the players ahead of him had better be looking over their shoulders for him.

Big Money
Some people argue that money is the only real way to keep score. Stat junkies like us tend to disagree, but there's no argument that the amazing amounts of money involved in poker is one reason the game is so compelling. Here's a list of some of the players who have scored big on the tournament trail this year: WSOP Champion Jerry Yang sits at the top of the money list with $8.25 million. Before he won the main event, he had cashed for $12,069. Main-event runner-up Tuan Lam is next on the list with $4.9 million (all but about $10,000 of which came from the main event). Carlos Mortensen is next with $4 million ($3.9 million came from winning the $25,000 WPT Championship). After them, third-place finisher in the main event Raymond Rahme has $3 million, Gavin Griffin $2.6 million, Eric Hershler $2.5 million, and Kirk Morrison $2.4 million. Alexander Kravchenko rounds out the $2 million-or-more club with $2.1 million.





Jovial Gent Executes a Huge Heads-Up Bluff Versus Apestyles in PokerStars Sunday Million
By Craig Tapscott


Want to study real poker hands with the Internet's most successful players? In this series, Card Player offers hand analysis with online poker's leading talent.

Event: $500 PokerStars Sunday Million
Players: 2,794
First Place: $250,202
Stacks: Jovial Gent - $9,252,656; apestyles - $18,687,344
Blinds: $100,000-$200,000
Antes: $10,000

Preflop: Jovial Gent is on the button with the 5 4 and raises to $600,000, which apestyles calls.

Flop: 10 8 8 ($1,220,000 pot)

Both players check.

Craig Tapscott: Why no continuation-bet by you here?

Yevgeniy "Jovial Gent" Timoshenko: I normally would almost never check behind on a flop texture like this, especially heads up when the hands apestyles is calling with are a lot more marginal; thus, it's a lot harder for him to hit this flop. As a result, I should be taking this pot down a lot of the time if he's playing his cards and checking and folding to my continuation-bet. I decided to check to see what developed on the turn and proceed from there.

CT: What's your line with this hand, then?

YT: I've played a good amount with apestyles, and I know he's a very good player and has good pattern recognition, so I decided to do something creative.

Turn:
3

Apestyles bets $800,000.

CT: Did you put him on a real hand here?

YT: Well, apestyles is going to be betting air here a very large percentage of the time, and being out of position, he's now at a huge disadvantage and can proceed only with a good hand. Knowing this, I decided to pull off a bluff here.

Jovial Gent raises to $2,000,000.

Apestyles reraises to $4,000,000.

CT: I don't think you expected this. How do you interpret this minimum-reraise?

YT: There was one huge giveaway about his hand, based on the line he took. He minimum-reraised in literally less than five seconds after I raised. I know that apestyles is a thinking player, and that this is an extremely difficult situation for him, with a lot of things to consider. We are playing heads up for $135,000, and this is a lot of money for both of us. I know the situation is so unique that he could not have made a snap play like this in less than five seconds. Even if it was in his gut that the optimal line was to minimum-reraise, he still would think it over before making such a play.

Jovial Gent reraises $4,642,656 to $8,642,656 and is all in.

CT: So, you didn't give him credit for any type of hand?

YT: I realized that there was almost no chance that he had any hand that could call this four-bet all in, regardless of the odds he was getting. At the time, I was very confident that my shove would be effective.

Apestyles folds and Jovial Gent wins the $9,220,000 pot.

CT: Did you think about showing the bluff?

YT: I didn't show this hand because I didn't want him knowing what I'm capable of doing. If he knew that I could make such a sick play, it would only complicate things.

CT: Be more specific.

YT: It would add a lot of variables to the match that could cause me to make a mistake by overanalyzing a move, because I might misjudge how apestyles had reacted to the bluff. After the match ended and I had won, I analyzed the play of this hand. I realized that there was almost no way that he could ever have a hand that could call me here.

Yevgeniy Timoshenko is ranked as one of the top online tournament players in the world, and has won more than $1 million online. At only 19 years of age, the live-action world is still safe from his hyperaggressive play for two more years.






Online Superstars Win Back-to-Back at Full Tilt
By Shawn Patrick Green


The Full Tilt $500,000-guaranteed tournament has been a showcase for online poker's top talent as of late. The event recently featured two online poker legends as winners in back-to-back weeks, and the virtual railbirds were going nuts.

These wins came on the tail of Chad "jse81" Batista's huge win in the Full Tilt $1 million guarantee on July 15. Then, Danny "THE__D__RY" Ryan came close to snagging the title when he finished in second place in the $500,000 guarantee on July 22. Something about Full Tilt's tournament formula has been bringing the cream to the top lately.

IMsoLucky0 is Oh So Lucky
Well, "lucky" may not be the appropriate word. Jordan "iMsoLucky0" Morgan was the first of the two Internet poker legends to take down the tournament when he captured the title on July 29. He bested 3,377 other entrants, including notable online pro Josh "professor plum" Prager at the final table, to snag the $121,000 top prize.

After solidifying his screen name in both online and live poker lore over the course of 2005 and 2006 through consistent wins, Morgan has been relatively quiet so far this year. This is just his second Online Player of the Year-qualified finish for 2007 (his first was for 13th place in the $400,000 guarantee on Full Tilt on March 25).

Annette_15 Brings One Home for Norway
On Aug. 5, Annette "Annette_15" Obrestad brought her legendary play to the final table of the event (along with dozens of railbirds wanting to "marry" her or "bear her children," of course). For her part, she defeated 3,267 entrants to take down the $117,000 first-place prize.

The 19-year-old Norwegian has been a poker phenomenon since she started playing over a year ago. According to Obrestad, she started her behemoth of a poker career by playing in freerolls, and claims to have never deposited a single dollar onto a poker site to get herself started.

Leader Board Shuffle
The Online Player of the Year (OPOY) leader board has again experienced a shakeup. While the top-two spots are still occupied by OPOY mainstays Sorel "Imper1um" Mizzi and Matt "ch0ppy" Kay, pretty much every other player in the standings moved either up or down over the past two weeks.

Most notably, Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron took over the No. 3 spot and nudged "Andy McLEOD" into fourth place when he took down the PokerStars daily $100 (with rebuys) tournament on Aug. 5, earning $47,000 and 240 OPOY points. James "P0KERPR0" Campbell vaulted over Aaron "Gotcha55" Kanter and landed in fifth place when he earned 320 points for a deep finish. He finished in third place in the Full Tilt Sunday Mulligan on July 29, earning $17,000 and 320 points.


Chatbox Cunning
Quick strategy from online poker's top pros
James "P0KERPR0" Campbell


"You have to play turbos a lot more aggressively than regular tournaments, obviously, because the blinds go up so much more quickly. In the turbos, you have to do a lot more restealing, because the blinds end up getting so big and people end up raising so much in position that those resteals become that much more valuable. In order to win any of those turbos, you're going to have to make a lot more resteals, regardless of what your cards look like."

"I was never really that big on protecting my big blind. Some players are really bad about it; if they have chips in the pot, they don't like to fold. Usually if you're in the big blind, you're playing your hand from out of position, and that was probably the biggest leak in my game. I now fold a lot more hands out of the blinds, just because it's so hard to play a hand from out of position. You need miracle flops to end up being profitable in that situation."

Tournament Schedule
The PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) is coming up. Here are some interesting or big events in the series to watch for:

Event No. 4, deuce-to-seven triple draw - $215 buy-in - $100,000 guaranteed - Sept. 15, 4:30 p.m. ET
Event No. 10, no-limit hold'em match play - $320 buy-in - $500,000 guaranteed - Sept. 21, 3 p.m. ET
Event No. 23, no-limit hold'em main event - $2,600 buy-in - $5 million guaranteed - Sept. 30, 4:30 p.m. ET

Those who are interested in signing up for these tournaments can follow this link to see a complete schedule: http://www.CardPlayer.com/link/ot.

Get a Piece of the Action
Those players wishing to take advantage of the promotions, overlays, and guaranteed prize pools at these sites can do so by going to the following links:

PokerStars - www.CardPlayer.com/link/etpokerstars
Full Tilt Poker - www.CardPlayer.com/link/etfulltilt
UltimateBet - www.CardPlayer.com/link/etultimatebet
AbsolutePoker - www.CardPlayer.com/link/etabsolute
Bodog - www.CardPlayer.com/link/etbodog






Maria Ho
World Series of Poker's Last Woman Standing
By Craig Tapscott


Maria Ho holds the distinction of being the last woman to bust out of the 2007 World Series of Poker championship event. It's an honor she's immensely proud of, yet at the same time she doesn't hold it in the highest regard. The final table of poker's most prestigious event had realistically been within reach. Ho walked away disappointed and heartbroken when the last card had cruelly tumbled down.

"When you enter a tournament, you want to win it," said Ho. "As the last woman, it was an important distinction, because women account for such a small percentage of the field. But I don't want to be known as the best woman player. And I understand that women say that all the time. I'm happy, but I still want a lot more."

Ho's heart was partially mended by the $237,865 compensation for 38th place and the flood of congratulations she received for an amazing performance. Throughout the event, Ho played with the poise and patience of a seasoned professional. Just 24 years of age, she'll have plenty of opportunities to add a gold bracelet to her jewelry collection.

Craig Tapscott: What did you learn during the main event?

Maria Ho: There really was a transformation in my game during those five days of play. I started out on day one very tentatively, just trying to feel out the players. I was in survival mode, but at the same time I was being selectively aggressive. If I was in a pot, I was in it to win it.

CT: Any specific strategy you can share?

MH:
I was basically playing position and my cards on the first day, and only premium hands from under the gun. I don't really like to raise with hands like A-Q from early position. That's probably the biggest change in my game. Also, it used to be that if someone raised before me, I would go all in with a hand like pocket queens. I realized that there were so many more ways to play a hand like that, like smooth-calling in position. Actually, this type of thinking saved me a lot of money and won me a lot of money, multiple times during the main event.

CT: When did you start playing poker?

MH: While growing up, I watched my dad play hold'em recreationally. I'm such a competitive person by nature, and I love card games. The first game I learned was bridge, and I used to play with my grandfather. I started playing hold'em right before I began college in 2001. Near the University of California, San Diego, there are a lot of Indian casinos. I went there with friends and got hooked playing live. I usually played $3-$6 limit.

CT: What kind of bankroll did you have?

MH: My parents had given me an allowance because they didn't want me working while I was at college. I sometimes used that money to play poker.

CT: Did your parents approve of your use of their funds?

MH: (Laughing) Oh, heck no. I would play … go broke, play … go broke again - more so live. I did build up my bankroll very fast, though, when I started playing online in 2003.

CT: How?

MH: I started playing $5-$10 and $10-$20. Sometimes I would jump up to $30-$60. It's easy to jump limits in the same day and play multiple tables. I felt so much more comfortable playing online. When playing live, my hands would still shake at times.

CT:
When did you become interested in tournaments?

MH: The first tournament I played in was a $300 buy-in event at Hollywood Park Casino in Los Angeles. I made the final table. Then, the very next tournament, I made the final table again, and finished sixth. I thought to myself: "Oh, my God. I'm so good. This tournament poker is for me (laughing)."

CT: Had you read some books?

MH: I've never read a poker book. I do a lot by instinct and feel. That's how I've always been with my game. At Commerce Casino, I used to watch John Phan play. I picked up a lot from his play in the higher-stakes cash games.

CT: Name one weakness you saw at the World Series tables?

MH: Players go all in entirely too much. I think the best play most times is to play small-pot poker.

CT: Your bread and butter as a professional for the last two years has been limit cash games, right?

MH: Yes. I primarily play $100-$200 up to $400-$800. In no-limit cash games, I'm really rusty. I have so much to learn. Obviously, I have more confidence now. Maybe I'll even read a book soon (laughing).



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Using Tells Online
By Brian Townsend


Reading opponents by finding and interpreting tells isn't just for live-action players. When you're playing online, you can't see your opponents, but they're still giving you information that doesn't show up in the hand histories. Most players ignore this extra information, but they're wrong to do so: Online tells enable you to make precise reads that will increase your win rate.

Every time your opponent acts on his hand, he will take a certain amount of time to do so. "Timing tells" are by far the most common and useful online tells. The first one to recognize is the "insta-bet," when the action comes to a player and he bets immediately. Insta-bets are usually large, commonly the size of the pot (especially on sites with buttons that automatically enter pot-sized bets).

To bet that quickly, a player must have intended to bet before the action was on him. That, in turn, usually indicates a very big hand or a big draw. Now, if the insta-bettor is the sort of player who always continuation-bets, the bet timing is less meaningful. But if five players saw the flop and the third player insta-bets, he almost always has the goods.

This tell is even more reliable when a player faces a bet and immediately makes a pot-sized raise. This situation is so clear because the raiser didn't have time to consider the action, interpret the bet, or consider the stack sizes. He just hit the bet-pot button because he likes his hand. He typically has an overpair, or sometimes a combination straight draw/flush draw that he knows beats almost anything.

If you notice this tell, fold all but your best hands. Remember, though, that some players are just habitually fast. Make sure the insta-bettor isn't one of these players; timing tells impart information only when they're out of the norm.

Notice also when a player faced with a bet takes no time to think before calling. You will often see these "quick calls" from players who have checked that street. They often hold good, but not great, hands. Why? They checked, saw a bet, and didn't even take the time to consider their options. Folding and raising both were out of the question; they just wanted to call bets of any size. Look, then, for these players to show up with hands like second pair, top pair with a weak kicker, and a flush draw (if they are passive).

Even players who are inclined to slow-play big hands like overpairs and sets will usually think for a couple of seconds before they do so. Those hands are versatile, so players holding them need time to think. With second pair, however, most novices will simply call without considering many alternatives.

Combat quick calls by applying pressure on the turn. Value-bet any top-pair hand and bluff with a very wide range. It might take three barrels, but you typically can force quick-calling hands to fold; they're simply too weak to stand much action.

Extra information goes beyond timing tells. There are also buy-in "tells." Players who buy in for anything other than the table maximum or minimum are rarely strong. Most good players buy in for the max, and there are some very good "short-stackers" who sit down with the minimum. A stack size in between generally indicates, at the very least, an inexperienced online player. He probably isn't one of the strongest players at the table, so make a note about him and try to play pots against him.

If a player is sitting at four or more tables, he is usually a winner. Most multitable players play so many tables because they are experienced. They are putting lots of money into action, and they aren't broke, so they probably have been successful. So, if there's a common opponent at several of your tables, consider him a regular and treat him the way you would any solid player.

You might not be able to see your online opponents face to face, but they are still real people whose decisions arise from real psychology and experience, both of which you can detect and exploit. If you learn to interpret this kind of information, you will profile your opponents more quickly and accurately, and you'll make strong folds, bluffs, and calls for reasons that you couldn't have deduced from the betting patterns alone. Poker is an information battle, and online tells will help you win it.



Just a Little Respect
By David Apostolico


It's natural to want respect. In both our professional and personal lives, respect is something desired by the great majority of us. A few of us may profess not to care what others think and actually mean it, but for the rest of us, it's important to have earned the respect of family, friends, peers, and co-workers. Respect is an end in and of itself. We take satisfaction in having earned that respect.

In fact, most of us have become so accustomed to striving for respect that it becomes important to get it in all aspects of our lives, no matter how minor. Think about all of the daily situations in which you seek respect that in hindsight is rather inconsequential. For instance, are you going to feel more pressure playing golf by yourself or in a foursome? Even if you're playing in a foursome, how do you feel when a group of strangers are behind you and are watching you tee off? You may never see these people again, but is there part of you that wants to hit an extra good drive? How do you feel when you make a good shot and no one is watching?

The need for respect is real and pervasive. We want to make a good impression, and, for the most part, that's a good thing. The desire to earn respect can propel us to perform at a high level. Yet, how relevant is it for the poker table?

Respect can be a very valuable tool at the poker table, but it is not an end in and of itself. In poker, the bottom line is to win. You should be playing to win, and not for respect. This is an important distinction. Because we are so trained to strive for respect in every aspect of our lives, that yearning becomes part of our DNA even if it's to our financial detriment.

Certainly, respect at the table can be advantageous. If I have respect at the table, I can use that to my advantage to win. I'll push others off hands and make timely bluffs. Often, I will do things to cultivate respect so that I can take advantage. However, I won't be afraid to do things because I believe that I may lose respect. That's a surefire way to lose.

I recently was in Las Vegas for non-poker business and played a cash-game session early one morning. It was about 7:30 a.m. and most of the players hadn't been to bed yet. I was in a suit, due to a meeting later that morning, and I could tell that the others at the table were eyeing me up as a happy-for-some-action tourist. I took full advantage of that impression. I wasn't worried about respect. I wanted to win. I tried to see more flops than usual if I could get in cheap enough. I got away from hands when I didn't hit, yet I knew that I was making a loose impression. When I hit my hands, I was easily getting paid off. After about 90 minutes of this, I sensed that the others started to "respect" my game. I then switched gears and became more aggressive, chasing opponents off their hands.

The bottom line was that I was not at all concerned with how much respect I was getting. I was concerned only with how the others perceived me and how to best use that to my advantage. I see way too many players who are too concerned with gaining respect at the table that they make a lot of mistakes. They are afraid to call down a bluff with a marginal hand, for fear of showing a loser. Others show their cards when they don't have to, and openly discuss their strategy to prove how good a player they are or to justify their actions. Still others criticize when they perceive their opponents making a mistake.
All of these things hurt a player's ability to win. The ironic thing is that it doesn't help them gain any respect, either. It just points out how inexperienced and insecure they are. If you play poker, you should be playing to win - and winners always get respect.

David Apostolico is the author of numerous books on poker, including Lessons from the Felt, Lessons from the Pro Poker Tour, and Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@comcast.net.



Check Your Ego at the Door
By Tim Peters


Play Poker Like a Pigeon and Take the Money Home by Anonymous (Lyle Stuart/Kensington; $14.95)

What really matters to you at the poker table? Would you rather win big piles of chips or be respected for your poker knowledge? Answer honestly!

Of course, we all say we're playing for money, the ultimate score in the game of poker. But we also know people whose ego and desire to appear smart gets the better of them. They castigate the fish for being fish. They go on tilt after poker's inevitable drawouts. They reveal their own skills and strategies by explaining their plays. But in the end, the winner is the one with the money - not the one who was "right" all the time.

The next time you're tempted to show off at the table, think about the principles of this entertaining - but deeply flawed - new book on hold'em. The anonymous author's premise? "You're the pigeon," he writes. "Act like one." Embrace your inner donkey, and you will get paid off.

That's the core message of a man who so shuns the limelight that he won't even put his name on the cover of his book. (He believes that operating under the radar is good for your long-term results.) The book opens with a funny vignette about cultivating the "aw shucks, I'm just here to have fun" attitude, and he spells out his major objective right up front: helping you "become good at disguising your skill level" in order to convince the players at the table "that you don't know what you're doing."

"Anonymous" counsels playing the occasional bad hands in order to establish your image as a pigeon. But how long can such an image really last? The good players will constantly revise their opinions of your play (and the best will pay more attention to how you bet than to the cards you show). Besides, this is hardly a new idea; Mike Caro has been preaching it, in different ways, for years.

The only really important strategic point he makes is that "to win consistently at Texas hold'em, you must alter your style of play." Ultimately, that's how you avoid being, well, pigeonholed by the observant players. But you shouldn't need this book to know about the value of unpredictability and deception.

Play Poker Like a Pigeon takes a dramatic turn for the worse in the next-to-last chapter, a diatribe against online poker. The author is convinced that online poker is rigged and rife with cheating. He asserts, for example, "that cheating occurs in cash games over the Internet about half [emphasis his] the time, and that when you sit down at a cyberspace table set for ten, about five of the players will be fictional computer-generated characters." His proof? Nothing.

So, given this rather gaping hole, why, you may ask, should you even consider reading this book? First, the author is very entertaining, and his candor about the game is refreshing: "The game of poker is not an exact science, and no book is going to show you how to react in every situation." That sentence ought to be slapped, warning label style, on the back cover of every poker book. Second, I thoroughly enjoyed his attitude toward the know-it-alls and nits who can make poker so excruciating. Finally, the satirical chapter that closes the book, on a fictional luckbox who wins a fictional main event, is quite funny and makes an important point about the role of luck, at least in the short term. Play Poker Like a Pigeon contains a lot of entertainment value, but that alone cannot compensate for the book's many flaws.

Note: Does anyone know who "Anonymous" is? He provides some clues: He lost big hands in major tournaments to Stu Ungar and Gabe Kaplan. If anyone can out him, let me know at books@CardPlayer.com.