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The Inside Straight

by CP The Inside Straight Authors |  Published: Feb 27, 2008


SpadeClub: The New Way to Win at Poker
Membership Poker Software Offers Players a Chance to Win Without the Risk
By Shawn Green

Twenty bucks can get you a lot of things: two movie tickets, a good meal, a DVD, a half-full gas tank … you get the idea. Well, Card Player is about to offer something a bit more exciting for that same 20 bucks - access to its new membership poker community that provides opportunities to participate in freeroll tournaments, find new poker friends, earn badges of achievement, and get free content. Oh, and we're also giving away more than $100,000 every month. You read that right. We're not very good with exchange rates.

Welcome to SpadeClub, Card Player's new membership poker software and innovative poker community that gives its members access to the full community, the tools to improve their game, and a shot at more than $100,000 in cash and prizes each and every month. Each month culminates in a $40,000-guaranteed freeroll, wherein the winner pockets an incredible $10,000. And the best part is, everyone is invited to try out the new software for free with SpadeClub's 14-day free trial as an Exclusive member.

To sign up, simply go to and experience the new way to win money playing poker with no risk.

Why isn't SpadeClub considered gambling? Gambling is risking money for a chance at winning a prize or something else of value. SpadeClub is not a gambling site; you are never asked to place a bet or risk money on a poker tournament or any game. While you'll have loads of opportunities to win big money in high-paying tournaments, a buy-in or deposit is never required. Exclusive members pay a monthly membership fee to take part in our extensive list of services, community features, and convenient access to all of our tournaments. SpadeClub allows all entrants an equal opportunity to succeed in SpadeClub's tournaments, and entry requirements are based on sweepstakes laws.

Here are some of the community features and gadgets available on SpadeClub:

Badges - SpadeClub members can earn special graphical badges that represent each milestone they've reached while playing at SpadeClub. Badges are displayed both at the tables and on players' profiles, and they're earned for things like winning tournaments, playing lots of hands, and so on. Show off your favorite badges for your biggest achievements, and try to collect them all.

Player profiles - You can create a social-networking-style webpage to display your info, SpadeClub friends, and SpadeClub achievements. You can also leave comments and write blogs for your SpadeClub friends to read.

Friend tracking - Keep up to date with your SpadeClub friends' player profiles and badges with the friend-tracking feature.

Leader boards - The SpadeClub leader boards are shown off all over the SpadeClub software,, and even Climb the leader boards and make your way to the top of the list for the whole world to see.

Hand Helper - Want to know how good your hand is? Just use the integrated tool to enter your hand and the number of opponents to see whether to raise it or dump it.

Odds calculator - Use the integrated odds calculator to hone your play by figuring out just how far ahead or behind you were in certain hands, or figure out the odds to enhance the bad-beat story you tell your friends.

Avatars - You can upload your own photos or images to use to represent yourself at the tables. You can also choose from any of SpadeClub's pre-made avatars.

Card Player digital subscription (Coming soon) - Get the latest poker news and strategy from poker's leading media outlet, Card Player. Every issue of Card Player magazine will be available to you in a convenient flash-based online format.

So, what exactly is an Exclusive member? Well, there are two kinds of players on SpadeClub: Exclusive members and Basic members. The chart below highlights the differences between the two:

More than 4,000 loyal Card Player readers took part in a two-month beta that awarded more than $20,000 in free money. These players helped improve the SpadeClub experience and made key suggestions for future improvements and community features.

Go to and discover the new way to win.

Garden City Casino Setting the Future of Gaming

While the Garden City Casino prides itself on being a San Jose tradition since 1946, new management has invested heavily in modernizing the intimate, mountain chalet-style, 40-table casino. The result is a stylish, action-packed gaming destination in the heart of the Bay Area.

New owners Eric Swallow, Peter Lunardi, and Jeanine Lunardi, who took over Garden City operations in March 2007, have invested more than $1 million in updating the property and diversifying game selection. The centerpiece of the expansion is the sleek Action Room, a six-table high-roller lounge that spreads a variety of California games, including Baccarat Gold and Vegas-style pure 21 blackjack.

Garden City has always had a reputation for super-live games. "At Garden City, our games are live and loose. This is where the live and action-packed games in San Jose are, and the addition of the Action Room is proof of that," stated General Manager Scott Hayden. Garden City offers a low-limit spread-limit hold'em game with a betting range of $4 to $40 and a $40 buy-in. Its $40-$80 and $80-$160 hold'em games are very live, and as the "home of Omaha eight-or-better" in Northern California, Hayden says the casino always has multiple Omaha games going.

All told, Garden City has 40 gaming tables in its 20,000-square-foot space. Its 20-plus poker tables spread hold'em, Omaha eight-or-better, and seven-card stud eight-or-better. Tournaments are offered daily, and the spread-limit hold'em buy-ins range from $60 to $100. Garden City also gives its patrons a chance to win their way to the World Series of Poker, and April 18-28 will hold its ninth-annual WSOP Warm Up tournament. This event gives away between 15 and 20 seats to the WSOP. Call for full details on all tournaments.

For the fans of California games, Garden City offers a wide variety, and some of the most desirable in California. Currently, the casino offers Baccarat Gold, Pure 21 blackjack, pai gow poker jokers wild, pan, super pan 9, double-hand poker, and pai gow tiles.

The look and amenities aren't the only notable updates at Garden City. The casino also has undergone a sweeping technological modernization, thanks to Swallow, who brings an entrepreneurial technology background to the gaming sector. "We've made it our goal to not only modernize the look for the Garden City Casino, but also the infrastructure, in order to improve the customer experience," he said.

Swallow and Bryan Roberts developed a Web-based software system that efficiently tracks details on all tables. What does this mean for you, the customer? How about quicker seating, thanks to an electronic wait list that monitors all games, and a system that collects objective data on dealer-service rankings, so, ultimately, you can see more hands during each session from highly skilled dealers. Also, the system offers a real-time graphical view of the gaming floor. This data, useful in resolving any table-stoppage issues, helps limit downtime at the table. For the dealers, Swallow says that the system has also provided for more efficient pushes. "Thanks to this, our employees have the ability to minimize standby time and maximize dealing time at the table."

With these improvements, what is often cited as one of the friendliest and most intimate cardrooms in Northern California is now also making its mark as one of the most innovative casinos in the business.

For more information on Garden City Casino, visit or call (408) 244-3333.

EU Gets Legal on German, Swedish Online Gaming Rules
European Commission Starts Legal Proceedings Against German Gaming Ban; Sweden Also Under Formal Investigation
By Brendan Murray

The European Union's Internal Market Commissioner recently issued a letter of formal notice to German authorities - the first stage in legal proceedings - in relation to the German Interstate Treaty, which effectively banned all online gaming and betting in the country beginning on Jan. 1, 2008.

Formal objections had already been raised by the European Commission under its notification procedure (Directive 98/34/EC) that the Treaty was counter to existing EU law, and now the Commission is set to take the ruling all the way to the European Court of Justice if necessary in order to defend EU competition law.

The Commission is challenging "the total prohibition of games of chance on the Internet, notably sports betting; … advertising restrictions on TV, on the Internet, or on jerseys or billboards; and the prohibition on financial institutions to process and execute payments relating to unauthorized games of chance. In addition, questions are raised regarding the authorization regime to be granted to intermediaries as well as the criminal sanctions or administrative fines provided for in cases of organization, advertising, and participation in online games of chance."

The move has been welcomed by the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), an industry body made up of eight major industry players, including PartyGaming and BWin.

The Commission also instigated proceedings against state-run Swedish poker monopoly Svenska Spel, which continues to exclude EU-licensed poker companies from operating in the country despite doing so itself. Proceedings are already under way against Sweden for its stance on sports betting, and poker is now being formally targeted. Authorities have two months to show that their rules are compatible with EU law.

Texas Hold'em Poker Coming to Macau
Government Approved the Most Popular Form of Poker
By Bob Pajich

Officials in Macau have given casinos the green light to spread Texas hold'em games. The Macau government announced the change through its official bulletin in late January, and casinos were allowed to start spreading the games immediately.

At least one casino, the Grand Lisboa, took the invitation and began to run games. This casino is the flagship property of Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM). SJM operates 17 casinos in Macau.

Texas hold'em was first played in Macau during the PokerStars Asia Pacific Poker Tour in November 2007. The APPT received special permission from the government to hold the event at the Galaxy Grand Waldo Casino. With 352 entrants, it was a smashing success, and showed that Texas hold'em poker could thrive in the largest casino market in the world, despite the fact that most of Macau's visitors are not familiar with the game.

Before this change, Galaxy had the only "poker room" in Macau In the form of four Poker Pro machines and two Poker Pro heads-up tournament tables at its flagship property, Star World. During the APPT event, the Grand Waldo was also testing a Lightning Poker table, a company operated by professional poker player Brian Haveson.

The casino was able to have the machines because Macau considers automated poker machines to be in the same category as slots.

Las Vegas casino operators Wynn Las Vegas, Sands, and MGM Grand all have properties in Macau, which passed Las Vegas in gambling revenue to become the world leader in 2006. In 2007, casino gambling generated $10.3 billion in revenue, a 46-percent increase from the previous year.

Sale of Harrah's Now Complete
World's Largest Casino Operator Sold for $17.1 Billion
By Bob Pajich

The sale of Harrah's Entertainment to the Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Global Management LP was completed on Jan. 28. The deal is worth $17.1 billion. The two private equity companies bought Harrah's for $90 a share. The company is now private, and its stock traded for the last time on Jan. 28 at $89.97 a share.

Harrah's board approved the sale in December of 2006, and its shareholders approved the sale in early April of 2007. It took this long to receive sale approval from the gaming boards of each state in which Harrah's operates a casino, as well as the foreign countries in which Harrah's also has casinos.

Harrah's is the largest casino operator in the world. With more than 50 casinos, it nearly hit the $10 billion revenue mark in 2007.

Caesars Palace Begins First-Friday Tournament
$2,000 Buy-In Gets Players 20,000 in Starting Chips and 50-Minute Blinds Levels
By Kristy Arnett

Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is giving a whole new meaning to "Thank Goodness It's Friday." On the first Friday of every month at 2 p.m., the poker room is hosting a $2,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament.

Players get a starting stack of 20,000 in chips and the blinds increase every 50 minutes. All entrants also are treated to a complimentary buffet.

"When you talk about a deep stack here in Las Vegas, what better place to play than the king of deep stack, Caesars Palace," said Poker Room Manager Jim Pedulla.

Sit-and-go single-table satellites for the tournament start the morning of the tournament at 9 a.m.

No-Cap High Hands at Mandalay Bay and Treasure Island
It Pays Infinitely to Hit a Royal Flush
By Kristy Arnett

Hitting a straight flush or quads is always exciting, since it happens so infrequently, but on top of winning the pot (which you most likely will if you have such a hand), some casinos are giving players an added high-hand bonus. However, unlike most poker rooms, the Mandalay Bay and Treasure Island poker rooms are not limiting the amount of the jackpot for elusive royal flushes.

At Mandalay Bay, quads and straight flushes pay out as much as $500, but the amount for a royal flush continues growing until it is hit. At the time this article was written, the diamond royal flush was at $5,000. Once a jackpot is hit, the corresponding high hand resets at $20.

Treasure Island pays at least $100 for quads or straight flushes, and caps the high-hand bonuses for these hands at $599. Royal flushes, however, never pay less than $600, and there is no limit to how high it can go. Both rooms say that their royals have gotten as high as $6,000.

Card Player Player of the Year
Gavin Griffin Completes Poker Trifecta

How good is Gavin Griffin? Well, Griffin recently became the first person to complete a poker trifecta when he won the World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Poker Open. He's currently the only player in the world to have won a World Series of Poker bracelet, a European Poker Tour event, and a WPT event.

He is tied for the lead in the Card Player 2008 Player of the Year (POY) competition with Bertrand Grospellier with 2,400 points. Grospellier got all of his points by winning the first major poker tournament this year, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Griffin's first major cash was in 2004, when he briefly held the record as the youngest player to win a WSOP bracelet (he was 22). He won $270,420 for taking down a $3,000 pot-limit hold'em event that attracted 316 players. It was a fantastic start to a live tournament career that is glowing phosphorus bright. He has already cashed in eight WSOP events.

Last April, Griffin won the EPT Grand Finale. With 706 players, this was a massive event that generated a prize pool of more than $8.8 million. Griffin took home a giant crystal vase and $2.4 million.

He's won more than $4.4 million in live tournaments since 2004. And to top it off, he is genuinely a nice guy who has helped raise breast cancer awareness by spending most of last year with his hair dyed fluorescent pink. He even walked 39 miles through Los Angeles in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer last year in honor of his girlfriend, who won a battle against breast cancer when she was 20. So, yes, sometimes the good guys do win. For Gavin Griffin, that happens quite often.

Look Out!
Tom "durrrr" Dwan (the number of "r's" depends on the site) has been an Internet pro for years, and he can often be found playing $300-$600 no-limit hold'em on many of the sites. He just started playing live major tournaments in 2007, and already has cashed for more than $658,000. That's four cashes since November of 2007, including two second-place finishes. Most recently, he finished second in the $5,000 no-limit hold'em event at the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open, which was good for $226,100. Dwan currently sits in 18th place in the POY standings, but the way he's been playing, that could change in a heartbeat.

It Was Just a Matter of Timex
By Julio Rodriguez

Mike "Timex" McDonald, a successful 18-year-old online poker player, has had no problem making the transition to live tournament poker. McDonald has been on a tear recently, having just taken down the European Poker Tour German Open in Dortmund for almost $1.4 million. His big win comes on the heels of a best all-around player performance at the Aussie Millions, where he made two final tables, finishing first and second, and also took sixth place in the heads-up championship event. His success has vaulted him toward the top of the Card Player Player of the Year leader board.

Bluffing With a Made Hand
By Evan Roberts

I am a high-stakes no-limit hold'em player. I provide exclusive coaching videos for Card Player Pro, powered by PokerSavvy Plus. My columns will center on hands taken from my videos. As a Card Player reader, you have access to clips of these hands and many others. In my columns, I will explore concepts and strategies utilized by the very best players in the world. You can read the columns on their own, but I also suggest watching the videos on for a richer learning experience.

While the concepts discussed in these columns will focus on heads-up play, many insights will be applicable to all game types. In this column, I will discuss the concept of turning made hands into bluffs.

Thinking Outside the Box
Expert-level poker is all about creative thinking and mixing up your play. Sometimes, this can involve turning a hand that has strong showdown value into a bluff by betting or raising aggressively. To illustrate this concept, I have selected an interesting hand from a recent online match.

The Setup

This hand took place about one hour into the match. At this point, I was up roughly $20,000. My opponent and I had been playing very aggressively, with a lot of preflop reraising and post-flop bluffing. However, we both had shown up with strong holdings every time we played a large pot. I was dealt the A 10 and open-raised to $300, and my opponent called.

The flop came 9 5 3.

The flop had missed me completely. My opponent checked, and I decided to bet $450, three-fourths of the pot. It is important to bet with a balanced range here (with both made hands and complete air), to keep your opponent off balance. My opponent called.

The turn was the A.

I had turned top pair. My opponent checked, and I decided to bet $1,200 for value. My opponent check-raised to $3,550 after thinking for a few seconds. I thought that he would check-raise with a very wide range of hands in this spot, including made hands (sets, two pair, straights, and so on), straight and flush draws, and complete air. I decided to call and re-evaluate on the river.

The river was the 4. My opponent bet $5,000.

In this spot, a good player will evaluate his options between calling and folding, attempting to put his opponent on a range of hands and comparing the pot odds to his equity against this hypothetical range. An expert player will take this a step further and analyze how his opponent will react to a raise. In this hand, I expected my opponent to bet most of his busted draws, all of his sets, most of his two-pair hands, and all of his straights. The pot was laying me better than 2-to-1; against this range, calling would have a slightly positive expectation.

Given how the match had gone so far, and because I had yet to be caught bluffing in a large pot, I expected my opponent to strongly discount the possibility of a bluff-raise. I think it would be strange to value-raise with less than a straight in this spot, so I believed that he would put me on a range comprised almost entirely of straights, either A-2 or, more likely, 7-6. As such, I expected him to fold all of his busted draws, all of his two-pair hands, all of his sets, and maybe even some of his wheels. Those hands comprised greater than 90 percent of his hand range, meaning that raising had a higher expectation than calling, making it the superior play.

I raised all in for roughly $25,000 and was instantly called by the 7 6.

Despite the fact that I lost this hand, I believe I played it very well. If my opponent had any hand other than 7-6, I believe he would have folded. High-level poker is about thinking outside the box. It is important to always evaluate all of your options in any given situation, even if it involves playing a hand in a highly unorthodox fashion (in this case, bluff-raising with top pair). In particular, bluffing with made hands can be particularly effective when you believe that your opponent will put you on a very strong range of hands and be forced to fold a large percentage of the time.

Good luck at the tables.

To watch Evan Roberts comment on and play this hand, point your browser to Card Player Pro, the complete online poker training site, at

Eric 'p_c4Libr4ted' Liu Practices Pot Control in $100-$200 No-Limit Cash Game
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.

Cash Game: Heads-up no-limit hold'em at Full Tilt Poker
Stacks: p_c4Libr4ted - $22,899 Villain - $22,299
Blinds: $100-$200

Craig Tapscott: Do you have any history with this opponent?

Eric "p_c4Libr4ted" Liu:
Yes, we have played three sessions of heads-up before this, and each of us has a pretty good idea of how the other plays. He's a very tricky player, but not very aggressive preflop.

Preflop: p_c4Libr4ted raises from the button to $600 with the J 10. Villain calls $400.

EL: This is a pretty standard opening raise in a heads-up match. My opponent calls, and since he doesn't three-bet a lot and likes to defend a good deal of hands, his hand range is wide.

Flop: A 10 8 (Pot: $1,200)

Villain checks.

CT: Do you continuation-bet here most of the time?

EL: Well, I flopped middle pair with backdoor flush and straight draws, on an ace-high but draw-heavy board. I can certainly bet my 10 here for protection and value. I usually bet, because even if I get check-raised, I still have backdoors. But this time, I decided to check for deception and pot control.

p_c4Libr4ted checks.

10 (Pot: $1,200)

Villain checks, p_c4Libr4ted bets $600, Villain raises to $1,200.

CT: He minimum-raises you on the turn. Get into his head a bit. What hand range is he doing this with?

EL: My opponent is an extremely good player in an aggressive game, and he knows I'm good, too. When I check behind on the flop and bet small on the turn, my range is 10-X, looking to get bluff-raised, or something like K-K, looking for some protection, plus some value from random drawing hands, such as Q-J or hands that could make crying calls, like 9-9, or total air, looking for a cheap bluff. In order to get max value and get me to make the most mistakes with this range in mind, he makes a minimum-raise. I believe that he's hoping to get a reraise out of 10-X and a call out of K-K, or perhaps a bluff-raise out of complete air.

CT: What do you think of the minimum-raise in general?

EL: I think his minimum-raise is a very good move, and had I not played the past sessions with him, I would've fallen for his trap. Against a lot of opponents who minimum-raise here, I like to reraise and get all in, because their move generally looks like a mediocre hand looking for a cheap showdown. I was fortunate enough to get away cheaply this time with my read. I use the play very rarely, only in very unique and specific places, either as a very cheap bluff when I think my opponent has air/the nuts, or to induce a crying call.

p_c4Libr4ted calls $600.

River: 2 (Pot: $3,600)

Villain bets $2,800.

EL: This river blank doesn't change anything, and if I thought his hand was strong on the turn, it's just as strong on the river.

CT: This looks like a value-bet, but that could be his intention.

EL: There is very little chance that he is bluffing, but he could play a 10 with a weaker kicker (the only plausible ones are 10-9, 10-7, and maybe 10-6) this way, and given correct pot odds on the river, I flat-call.

p_c4Libr4ted calls $2,800. Villain shows the 10 8 and wins the pot of $9,200 with a full house.

CT: Do you think many less-experienced players, perhaps at lower stakes, would have reraised and stacked off with your hand?

EL: Certainly. Even I would've stacked off under the right circumstances, but it's a good thing I had a read this time.

Eric Liu is a 22-year-old senior at Duke University. He is a high-stakes cash-game player and is better known as "P3achy_Keen", a regular in the $25-$50 no-limit games on PokerStars.

Noah Schwartz Chalks Up One for His Haters
By Shawn Patrick Green

Noah "fouruhaters" Schwartz kick-started his highly successful poker career by playing online poker. Schwartz, 24, admits that he got off to a rocky start by going into debt to make deposits and by losing whatever he did win right back. However, those false starts have helped him to become what he is today, and he has had a lot of incredible accomplishments.

The Miami Beach, Florida, resident's most recent accomplishment came when he finished in fourth place in the World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Open. His finish landed him $332,000 and some face-time on national television when the episode airs. He has had a lot of success in live poker, but none of it would have been possible if not for his earlier successes online. His biggest online win - and, in fact, his biggest win to date before the Winter Open finish - was when he took down the $1,000 PokerStars Sunday Million on March, 25, 2007, for $291,000.

Schwartz started playing poker for the fun of it, rather than the skill of it, and he experienced a lot of people telling him that he couldn't do it. It was those naysayers who inspired his screen name fouruhaters, and it was partly because of them that he strove to get better.

Card Player got Schwartz on the phone shortly after his big finish in the Winter Open to talk about his drive for success, and, of course, about his recent big score:

Shawn Patrick Green:
What got you to that final table? Were you running hot or were you playing well, or some combination of the two?

Noah "fouruhaters" Schwartz: On day three … it was tough for me. I started with 500,000 in chips, and in the first level, I got involved in a hand in which I raised with K-6 from under the gun and John Hennigan called me. It was a 6-6-2 flop, and we ended up getting all in for about 440,000. He had 6-5 and rivered a 5, which sort of sent me spiraling downward. I told Card Player [tournament reporters] that I was on "life tilt." But I was able to regain my composure and stay focused, and I just played really, really solid poker throughout the rest of the tournament.

SPG: What did it take to help you regain your composure?

NS: This hand happened right before the break. At the break, I received several text messages from people who were following me online at They said, "Noah, you have the ability." I still had 180,000 in chips, which was well above average, but I was just down. It was a 420,000 pot. I talked to my fiancé, and she was like, "Look, I know you can do it." I've been in similar situations before, when I may not have persevered and not handled it in the right manner, but I said, "You know what? I'm going to get it done no matter what I have to do." I picked some good spots where I had a couple of all-in situations when I wasn't called and I was holding very marginal hands. But I had the reads on certain people, and the tendencies that they had, to get them off certain hands, and I had enough chips to get that done. So, I was able to chip back up, and once I got back to 300,000 or 400,000, I was fair game and was ready to go.

SPG: You've had very good results both online and live. Are the two that much different?

NS: The difference is that people online play a lot faster. They're a lot more aggressive, and I think it comes from the ability to buy into another tournament right afterward. You know, you can just click on the lobby and get into another tournament. But live, in these big events, people are a lot more cautious, and they're not opening pots with as many marginal hands as they do online. So, I think playing live is easier than playing online.

SPG: Just because you can exploit people's tightness?

NS: Right, because a lot of people are afraid to bust out in these big live events. Especially early, they're not willing to put it all in, so if you're really willing to put someone to the test early, a lot of people are going to fold. I always put a lot of pressure on people, and in my last three events, I've been able to accumulate a lot of chips because I'm always putting the pressure on.

SPG: What's the biggest mistake that people make when deep-stacked?

NS: A prime example is my buddy Justin Bonomo. He entered the final table of the tournament with 3 million in chips; he was second in chips at the table. His style is - and he doesn't change it - to open a lot of pots and be willing to play in any situation. And, unfortunately, in this particular situation, it hurt him a lot, because he got involved in a hand in which he called 125,000 preflop with 7-4 suited, or maybe it was off, and he flopped an open-end straight draw and ended up losing about 1.5 million in the hand. So, I think that what a lot of people do is open up their game too much; they start opening too many pots.

Gavin Griffin is another prime example of this. He started opening a lot of pots, but for him it was successful, because he exploited the people who just wanted to move up, who wanted to go from ninth to eighth to seventh. So, he was able to take advantage of that. And he picked up some good situations, like queens against the A-K of Bonomo; he won 2 million in chips in the hand. I think, ultimately, that you just need to stick to your game; a lot of people try to bully, they get a lot of chips and they start to bully, and it hurts them. It catches up with them at the end of the day.

Chatbox Cunning

Card Player Pro trainer Isaac "luvthewnba" Haxton (part of the PokerSavvy Plus stable of poker pros) gives us some insight into the games he specializes in.

Isaac "luvthewnba" Haxton

On how best to play against wildly aggressive opponents:
It depends on the situation, of course. But if somebody is just going to put his stack in every hand, you have to wait until you have a better hand than him to call it off. But that doesn't mean that you have to beat top pair, necessarily, but you certainly must adjust your hand valuation against someone who is playing that aggressively. One thing you can do is tighten up your preflop and flop play so that you more often have a big hand when you get to the turn and river, so that you're not getting blown off in big pots with mediocre hands. That's something that a lot of people do wrong against overaggressive players, I think; they want to play as many hands against them as they can, because they think they're playing poorly, and they want to get their money in as soon as possible. But if somebody is playing overly aggressively, you're sort of playing into his strategy by putting yourself in lots of spots in which you have to make tough decisions with third pair against him.

On the hardest part of being a professional poker player:
The toughest thing is riding out really bad losing streaks. I went about seven months at a little worse than break-even the year before my PCA [PokerStars Caribbean Adventure] score, just before I switched from limit to no-limit [hold'em]. And it can be really hard to make yourself play every day when you just can't win. It was toward the end of that losing streak that I switched from limit to no-limit, and I guess, during a losing streak like that, switching up the games you're playing, learning a new game, can be a good way to keep poker fun and interesting.

Kenny Weinstein: Shizzletastic
By Craig Tapscott

Since graduating from Stockton College in New Jersey, Kenny Weinstein's business degree has been shelved. His career choice was not to be far from the madding crowd, but to dive into the online insanity around a table stacked high with chips. Happiness is closing a final table, not surfing the Wall Street Journal for stock tips. And since 2005, Internet poker has been his sole source of income, yet the journey has not been one without pitfalls.

"I went through a very long process to become a good player," said Weinstein. "I lost a lot of deposits. It takes a while to become a winning player online; it's tougher than most people think."

As "Kenny Rap" online, he's known for his sharp reads, consistent play, and entertaining personality. Weinstein is always freestylin', applying his love for rap music's improvisational roots, feeling the flow from moment to moment, and not getting stuck in fancy plays or mindless aggression.

Online, Weinstein has battled at more than 150 final tables and taken down countless events. One highlight in 2007 was a seventh-place finish in the $1,000 buy-in event No. 14 of the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker, good for $69,825. During his short online career, he's cashed for more than $1 million, but he has had little success in live play. But that's nothing a shizzler with mad skills can't lock down and overcome.

Craig Tapscott:
Why the aversion to live tournaments?

Kenny Weinstein: When you designate time to one big event, it's grueling 12-hour days, and then you take a bad beat or get coolered. I know that things happen in poker and you can't win every tournament. But, emotionally, I don't take it well when I get knocked out after all of that. Online, you can just fire up another one, and it's no big deal.

CT: What was your big "aha" moment when coming up the ranks?

KW: I remember when I started playing, I was very good at amassing large stacks, but I would blow them consistently. I talked to some better players, and I learned to slow down and pick better spots. That's when I started winning.

CT: Can you be more specific?

KW: I wasn't monitoring stack sizes or thinking about whether or not a player was tight or aggressive. When I started being more aware of my opponent's raises and controlling things better, my reshoves became more successful. If I can get people to pay me off when I clearly have the best hand or risk small amounts of my stack to accumulate, I'd rather do that than risk a huge percentage of my stack with a bluff or a questionable read.

CT: When is a good time to be restealing?

KW: I've been much more careful lately with my resteals, because I'm getting called, frankly. When a guy is making a call with A-10 offsuit for 20 big blinds, you have to realize that you can't reshove trash anymore. I'm just risking way too many chips, and it's really handcuffed me. I have to lower the variance, look at my game, and find a different way to accumulate. But I would say that 20 big blinds is the perfect stack to try a resteal. You have a lot of fold equity.

CT: Many players are aggressive simply to be aggressive, with no thought behind it.

You have to be creative. Raising from the button is not a new concept. I started to look at which raises were working and which raises weren't. I realized that all of the raises that looked obvious, like those from late position, were not very successful. Now, any ace or two Broadway cards were not attacking my under-the-gun raises. Overall, they were much more successful. You have to think against the grain, be one step ahead, and not just continue to do what everyone else says is correct.

CT: What did you learn in regard to stack sizes?

KW: Now, when I play multitable tournaments, stack sizes are maybe the most important aspect - almost more important than what my cards are. I know that's the major difference between the good players and the great players, that awareness.

CT: Do you have fun playing almost 100 percent of the time as a professional online?

KW: Yes … for the most part. But it's very hard when you're losing money and taking bad beats. It will make you a grumpy person. It's happened to me. For the most part, people need to relax more, and be nicer to each other. I've made many friends in poker and I have a lot of respect for most players. I hope they think the same of me.

Little Flush Busts Liebert
By Mike Sexton, the "Ambassador of Poker" and Commentator for the World Poker Tour

The World Poker Finals at Foxwoods is one of the premier events on the WPT. It always has a large field, tremendous prize money, and, invariably, a strong final table. In this tournament, we had two of the best women players in the world at the final table, Kathy Liebert and Mimi Tran, as well as the highly respected pro Nenad Medic (who went on to win this tournament and capture his first WPT title).

In this hand, five players were left, the antes were 3,000, and the blinds were 15,000-30,000 when Kathy Liebert (with a little more than 2 million in chips) opened the pot for 127,000 with the 5 4. E.G. Harvin, on the button and the chip leader with nearly 4.8 million in chips, called with the A J. Both blinds folded.

The flop was K-J-10 with two hearts. Liebert checked her flush draw and Harvin bet 400,000 with two jacks and a royal-flush draw. Liebert called. The 2 came on the turn, giving both players a flush. Harvin, of course, had the nut flush. And they both checked!

The 6 appeared on the river. Liebert now bet 1 million with her flush and Harvin went all in over the top of her. Liebert called all in and then headed to the rail in fifth place.

Give kudos to Harvin for the way he played this hand. He bet on the flop, but checked the nuts on the turn after Liebert checked in front of him. Liebert went for the decoy, bet on the river and called the raise, and that was it for her.

In looking back at the hand, I believe Liebert's biggest mistake was calling the 400,000 bet on the flop with a small flush draw. Here's why: If the heart doesn't come on the turn and your opponent bets again, you just can't afford to make the call - and you gave away 400,000 that you didn't have to. And, obviously, if you hit your flush and your opponent had a flush draw, as well, it's lights out for you.

The moral of the story: When you have to pay to draw to a small flush, be careful what you wish for.

Focus on Inaction
By David Apostolico

"I never worry about action, but only about inaction."
- Winston Churchill

I came across the above quote recently and it got me thinking about poker. Winston Churchill was a lifelong fan of the game of poker, and rightfully found it useful in measuring various attributes of his opponents. How good a player Churchill was remains a subject of debate. According to some accounts, he was soundly defeated in a game with President Harry Truman and members of his inner circle. The story goes that Churchill was being whipped so badly that when he excused himself for a restroom break, President Truman ordered his men to lighten up and let Churchill win a few pots. Churchill's skill as a poker player is irrelevant to this column, however, as it is doubtful that he had poker in mind when he uttered the quote above.

Yet, I believe the quote has tremendous application to poker and can be useful to many players - especially in no-limit hold'em tournaments. Let's examine the quote more carefully. First, longtime readers of mine will know that I am not a fan of what I call "card-dead" stories. It drives me nuts to hear people get knocked out of a tournament and complain that they just didn't get any cards to play. I'd much rather hear a bad-beat story. At least with a bad-beat story, the storyteller presumably played the hand correctly and suffered the fate of the poker gods. With a card-dead story, though, the complainer obviously suffered from a serious case of inaction.

There is more than one way to play poker, and if you're not getting dealt premium cards, you have to make adjustments. Use position, tells, and the power of your chips to make something happen. It may not always work out, but at least you go out swinging rather than being quietly blinded out. Between losing from action or inaction, choose action every time. At least it gives you a chance to win. Inaction means certain elimination.

There's another way to look at this quote from a poker perspective, as well. That is, are your opponents giving you action or not? Many players prefer that their opponents remain inactive. Certainly, that can work to your benefit at times, but the name of the game in tournament poker is to accumulate chips. That will require action from your opponents. Don't be worried about active opponents. It's better to be worried about inactive opponents.

If you have active opponents, you can win some big pots. It will require some finesse on your part, but that is how you win tournaments. The bigger factor, however, is that the play of your opponents is often a reflection of your own play. If you are not getting any action, it means you are playing way too conservatively. When you enter a pot, everyone knows that you have the goods and they steer clear. Your prior inaction is the cause of your opponent's not paying you off. Action begets action.

In a tournament, you do not have the luxury of waiting all day for cards that may not come. The blinds will eat you up. If you've told a card-dead story or two in your time (and be honest with yourself), take a few minutes to reflect on the quote above. Maybe even jot it down and refer to it during your next tournament. With increasing blinds and antes, tournaments are designed to force the action. The key to advancing is to be ahead of the curve. Be proactive. Make some moves before you are forced to, and be concerned with inaction.

David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker books, including Tournament Poker and The Art of War and Poker Strategies for a Winning Edge in Business. You can contact him at

Limit Strategies
(At Last!)
By Tim Peters

Advanced Limit Hold'em Strategy: Techniques for Beating Tough Games
by Barry Tanenbaum (D&B Poker; $24.95)

The ascendance of no-limit hold'em cash games seems to have relegated limit hold'em to "forgotten stepchild" status these days. In fact, during the last two years, just two books on the limit game have been published, including this superb new title by Card Player columnist Barry Tanenbaum.

As the title states, this is not a book for beginners or for weak games (a solid understanding of hand values can take you far in weak games). With higher limits and tougher opponents, you must understand more and more complex situations, and you must understand "the non-card related factors that go into making an advanced strategic poker decision": position, people, aggression, dead money, and image.

One of the first and more important general concepts Tanenbaum touches on is predictability: "The primary strategic objective of top poker players is to make their opponents predictable while remaining unpredictable themselves." How? By cultivating "FUD": "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt." You cultivate FUD through "the illusion of action": "making enough plays that look like action … [so] that you get real action … when you have the best of it."

Fans of Super/System will recognize this as a variation of the Doyle Brunson dictum "to get action you have to give action." But Tanenbaum takes the idea much further by articulating how the "illusion of action" requires insight into your opponents, an understanding of situational play, and a healthy dose of creativity. This section of the book is a powerful reminder of just how complex poker can be.

Creating the "illusion of action" demands (occasionally) looser play, and this will be the toughest challenge for many players. Tanenbaum encourages you to "expand your comfort zone" (for example, by raising instead of calling and by making value-bets on the turn and river). This is easier said than done! "Unfortunately," he writes, "there is no way to play less tightly without seeing some increased volatility in your results … you must be fiscally and mentally prepared to handle the big swings."

To his enormous credit, Tanenbaum has not written a book of poker tips; he has written a book with philosophical foundation that informs every strategy and play he describes. Part 1 is devoted to the many girders of that foundation, and you can understand Tanenbaum's approach fairly easily (he's a very clear thinker; he's also a very clear writer). Part 2 gets into the hard stuff: execution, structured by the various stages of hands, from preflop play to the river.

Part 2 is a classic reminder of how challenging poker books can be - not because it isn't clear, but because few people can absorb the sheer quantity of information and put it to work at the poker table. I suggest reading the book through, then picking out a concept to study and apply each week or session. For example, you could decide to practice "betting to gain a tell," work on exploiting position, or strive to be more strategic on the river. Tanenbaum offers an excellent analysis of value-betting on the river, including its psychological utility (river aggression can sow the seeds of FUD in your opponents). Just don't try everything in this book at once.

And remember - you will make errors. You will regret moves (or non-moves). You'll find yourself in ambiguous situations that will keep you up at night. Tanenbaum advises you not to dwell on your mistakes: "The most important thing to remember is the need to forgive yourself. The next hand you play is the only one that matters." And when you play that next hand, do so with an understanding of the material you've learned in this outstanding book on limit hold'em.

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