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Capture the Flag -- Dani Stern

by Kristy Arnett |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


Dani Stern

Dani Stern is a 23-year-old online cash-game professional who recently became a member of the elite Brunson 10 for The New York native has been crushing the six-handed cash games on the virtual felt, and also has had success in tournaments, with his biggest cash to date, $548,315, coming in a fourth-place finish in the 2009 World Series of Poker $40,000 no-limit hold’em event.

Kristy Arnett: Can you explain the concept of thin value-betting and why it is important to your game?

Dani Stern: In order to bluff at a pretty reasonable frequency, you need to be able to credibly represent a lot of possible hands, and one way to do that is to have your opponents know that you are capable of making thin value-bets. When you are betting the river, you don’t want your opponents to say, “OK, he only has the nuts or is bluffing here.” You want them to say, “Or, he could have the second nuts, the third nuts, or the fourth nuts,” and so on. The more hands that you can be value-betting, the more it enables you to bluff. You want to squeeze out every penny of value that you can from a hand, so if there is value in a value-bet and you don’t make it, you’re denying yourself money, basically.

Getting better in poker is a lot about precision — basically making more precise reads, more precise value-bets, and more precise calls and folds. Value-betting thinly is an example of this.

KA: What are some things you see that are holding back medium-stakes players from being able to make the jump to high stakes?

DS: I think that some players are too content with the way they play. They don’t try to be creative or expand their game enough. They learned how to play from poker forums and training videos, and they have a general outline of how to play relatively correctly, but they don’t really challenge themselves to break out of that mold to try to go above and beyond. They play with just a standard tight-aggressive style.

KA: Players harp on the importance of position, especially in six-handed games. Do you think this concept is misapplied?

DS: Well, I think the best way to think about position is that when you are in position, you can play a much, much wider range of hands. You can play very loose. When you are out of position, you have to play a lot tighter. That’s just the basic outline. But you also have to realize that your opponents expect you to do this. You need to be able to sometimes use that against them; thus, you can’t play just extremely tight when out of position and never reraise with a mediocre hand, because if you do that, you’re going to be far too easy to play against. So, when your opponent raises from the cutoff and you’re on the button, you should be reraising him pretty aggressively. When your opponent raises from under the gun and you’re in the small blind, you obviously should be playing tight, but that doesn’t mean that you should never make a bluff, because people are going to expect you to play tight. You should sometimes use that to your advantage.

KA: What tips can you give to players who are having trouble playing their good hands — hands like A-J or K-Q — out of position against these aggressive position players?

DS: They can start by just taking a few more stands. They can reraise more with garbage hands. Just because they raise, get reraised, and call with A-J, and the flop comes 7-4-2, it doesn’t mean they have to check-fold. A-J might be the best hand. They can check-call sometimes. Basically, what someone like that is doing to you, especially if you’re a lower-stakes player who’s moving up and you’re not used to playing against extremely aggressive players, is trying to take you out of your comfort zone and put you in situations that you’re not used to. You have to recognize what he’s doing. It’s no different than any other situation in poker, in which you have to make an adjustment against your opponent by making a read.

KA: Against aggressive opponents who are raising in position in a six-handed game, what types of hands are good to three-bet from the blinds, and what types of hands should you shy away from three-betting in this spot?

DS: Of course, it depends on the opponents and the situation, but generally, you obviously want to three-bet your premium hands, and then a lot of hands that are pretty good but aren’t really good enough to just call a raise with. You might want to mix in hands like Q-6 suited or K-8 suited — which play pretty well if you three-bet them, but don’t play very well if you just flat-call with them. They are really hard to play when you don’t have the initiative. If you reraise, you give yourself a chance to win the pot right there, and even if you don’t, you give yourself a pretty good chance to win the pot with a continuation-bet on the flop, or by barreling him. Also, they’re good enough hands that you can often make the best hand, because it’s not like you are reraising with 4-2 offsuit.

KA: Can you discuss the importance of expected value, and your experience in learning it?

DS: It was just sort of an “aha” moment that I had very early in my poker career. I had been playing for only a few months. The idea is that your goal in poker is not just to win pots, but to win money. Expected value is about the most important thing in poker, because that is how you’re going to make your money. The concept is that you can be behind in a hand but still play it, because you have enough overlay in the pot that you can still make a profitable play by putting money in there. Every situation, everything you are doing, is all about expected value and seeking it out. It all adds up in the end in your win rate.

KA: Are timing tells online useful, and do you ever try to employ reverse timing tells?

DS: I think they are useful, but I think they were more useful a couple of years ago. People are much more aware of them now. Players tend not to be so obvious with them. There used to be a lot of timing tells; for example, if players were betting really quickly, they were bluffing, or if they did the fake tank, they were value-betting. I find that these tells aren’t as reliable as they used to be. I tend not to do the fake timing tell. If you’re doing fake tells, you’re basically saying that you think your fake tell is going to be more likely to trick an opponent than he’s going to be able to figure you out, and I’m just not sure that’s true. I like to try to take the same amount of time, regardless.

KA: In such a quickly evolving game, do you still find leaks in your game?

DS: Absolutely. I think that all players have some problems in their game; no one is perfect, and no one is going to be perfect. A lot of leaks aren’t necessarily about you; they’re about your opponents, and about knowing how your opponents are playing against you. If you aren’t adjusting properly, that’s a leak. It’s not about just the set way that you play and figuring out ways to change it. It’s about understanding your opponents and what your opponents think of you, and reacting to that. Spade Suit