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Throw Momma From the Train

by David Downing |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


In my capacity as a "poker guru," I often am asked about my considered views on what it takes to be a top pro, what skill or attribute makes the ultimate difference. Well, this is almost true; if you replace considered with glib, and often with never, it would be spot on. So let's pretend I am asked that question; how would I reply? The first thing would be, not to become a pro in the first place. The attrition rate is too high, especially after the first year or so, and the psychological pressures can be daunting. But if I was pressed, and asked what the most important skill is, the choice would be obvious: game selection.

The ninth-worst player in the world is a shoo-in for success if he is battling only the worst eight. Back in my heyday as a live player, I would sit down and "know," empirically and intuitively, that, at most, one other player was better than me and maybe one other was equally skilled. The rest would be worse to much worse. And that would be a bad lineup. This creates a whole series of other tensions, like how do you get sustained action, but that's a topic for another column.

Online, the situation used to be equally good, but the death of volume from the U.S. has "squeezed the markets," and the overall standard of play is much higher. So, how do you identify good spots for game selection in today's world?

Momma, I'm Scared!

If you are playing particular stakes in a particular game, you should know who the regulars are. And because you are happy to drop a level or two to find better games, you also should have a rough idea of who these regulars are, too. Now, if you suddenly find a lower-stakes player in a bigger-stakes game, you often have yourself a great money-making opportunity. It is highly likely that he is taking a shot, and shot-takers are notoriously weak - as they just don't adapt enough to the higher-stakes game conditions. Typically, they will play way too tight - which is easy enough to adjust to - and then if they run bad, they are prone to screaming, eye-bleeding tilt. Loosen up, agro up, and then when the steaming starts, pick them off.

Momma, I'm Bored

Conversely, if you find a higher-stakes pro slumming in your game, there is also an excellent, if dangerous, money-making opportunity. It is highly unlikely that he is taking the game seriously. This pro is a bit like a hard-core porn addict reading a lingerie catalogue. His heart isn't really in it. You are never going to out-agro these types, and bluffing is at your peril. The key is to have much tighter hand selection, and play these much stronger hands hard. Your foe will not adjust, simply because he does not care, and hey, cracking these rocks and nits is fun, right? When I was playing 15-30 and 30-60 stud eight-or-better back in the day on PokerStars, I once offered someone a billion-to-one that the clueless, insane, terrible fish at the table was not Bill Chen - notable theorist, high-stakes player, and multiple World Series of Poker bracelet winner. This shows just how good my prop betting is, as that was just who it was. And why was Bill playing so badly? This was just a lingerie catalogue.

Just, Momma!!

Chip Reese and his familyH.O.R.S.E. on the Net hit its peak the year Chip Reese won the first big H.O.R.S.E. event at the World Series. The games were plentiful and pumping. Then, the stud experts destroyed the games. Basically, a raft of them washed into the game, murdering the R.S.E. parts, as you might expect versus neophytes, and then sitting out during the flop games. Eventually, the value players grew tired of playing hold'em and Omaha very shorthanded, only to get raped in full-ring stud action.

Since this heyday, the games have stabilised, and whilst there are fewer games, they are still tremendous value to someone who is good at all the games, especially the stud variants, where the specialists have long since moved on. This value has been greatly increased by the introduction of eight-game, which adds no-limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha (PLO), and triple-draw lowball to the already heady mix. How many players have been middle-stakes winners at all these games, as I have? The other day, I won a nice 300 big blinds pot in no-limit hold'em, in which a player had a nut-flush draw versus my hidden set, and a 200 big blinds pot in PLO, when my foe called a substantial bet on the turn with the legendary A-A, no draw. Unfortunately, I can't give "in a nutshell" advice here, except, know all the games, and - perhaps the ultimate poker skill, second only to game selection - play well.

David has played poker all over the UK for the better part of a decade. Originally a tournament player, now focused on cash play and almost entirely on the Internet for the last three years, he makes a healthy second income playing a wide range of games.