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Capture the Flag: Max Silver

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Apr 17, 2013

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Max Silver is an online poker pro residing in Dublin, Ireland. He plays anywhere from $2-$4 to $50-$100 pot-limit Omaha (PLO) on the iPoker network. He puts in about 20,000 hands per month, about 25 percent of which are in the heads-up format.

The 22-year-old former journalist is also a successful tournament player, cashing for more than $700,000 over the past two and a half years.

Here, Silver tells us about his rise in the poker ranks and gives you some basic PLO strategy for anywhere from heads-up to full-ring action.

Brian Pempus: Tell us a little bit about your poker background.

Max Silver: I’ve been playing since 2009, a full time pro since June 2011. One of my biggest turning points in my game was when I received coaching from Jason Somerville for approximately five months in late 2009 and early 2010. Since then I moved up stakes playing no-limit hold’em but I felt that my win-rate was stagnating in some tough online games and I wasn’t particularly enjoying it. I signed up to one of the European sites since I’d heard about softer games but was disappointed in the result. Luckily the PLO games were pretty good and I’ve never really looked back.

Jason and I were both active participants in the poker forum of the something-awful forums. In September 2009, Jason approached me about participating in a group coaching experiment. We have topics of discussion almost every night and would talk about various hands all the time. The biggest thing about Jason’s coaching is it wasn’t just do this or do that. He took a look at why we do anything in poker. This allowed me to apply his concepts and refine my own poker concepts well after the coaching project ended.

The coaching cost was a percent of my profits for the duration of the coaching as well as a small time after. The end cost ended up being an insane deal for the amount of coaching given. We’re still good friends today, and we occasionally needle each other about the value given.

BP: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see still being made at pot-limit Omaha cash games these days? Either live or online.

MS: I think one of the biggest mistakes my opponents make is tilt control. In pot-limit Omaha you’re going to be in a ton of big pots pretty easily. With the hand equities running so close, it’s very easy to suddenly be 10 buy-ins [down] from where you should be — all in a very short amount of time. A lot of opponents can’t handle this and start putting in a lot of money with marginal hands in a misguided attempt to get even fast.

Another very common mistake is I think regulars don’t show enough creativity. I can make some very big hero folds in a lot of spots, just based on the fact that it’s a spot where my opponent is going to show up with the nuts 95 percent of the time.

BP: In other words, sometimes people overly stick to the basic notion of pot odds and say something like, “I am committed”? When, in a sense, you can always fold?

MS: Not exactly, but a pot-limit Omaha player on tilt might start three-betting hands without an equity or playability edge. Poor equity preflop translates to poor equity postflop, and they’re going to make more mistakes with their hand once the money goes in. Pot-limit Omaha is a game where preflop mistakes can really compound themselves postflop

BP: Can you talk generally about preflop hand ranges in pot-limit Omaha, as in what are the types of hands you would advise people to play in position and out of position against a strong opponent?

MS: Like everything else in poker there’s no absolute answer to this question. It depends on a lot. However, a really big mistake I see a lot of people make and used to make myself is to defend too liberally from the blinds. Position is even more powerful in pot-limit Omaha than it is in no-limit hold’em, and defending a bunch of marginal hands is going to lead to many mistakes and tough spots postflop.

BP: Would you say then that the hands you defend with (in heads-up) more closely align with hands that you could be three-betting with, as opposed to ones you should just be ditching?

MS: It really depends on the opponent. Versus someone I feel is going to play more straight-forward, I’m going to three-bet a much higher ratio of my defending range as usually I’m going to have an equity and playability edge versus my opponent’s range. Versus an opponent who’s both fighting back a lot in position and increasing their four-bet frequency, I’m likely to start flatting a lot more. This results in me having a stronger range to fight back versus their tendency to fire multiple barrels both with bluffs and thinly for value

BP: Can you define “playability edge,” as some beginning pot-limit Omaha players might not be too familiar with that concept?

MS: You want a hand with three or ideally four cards that work well together. You want connected cards than can flop or turn wrap draws with multiple straight outs. You want your flush draws to be as nut-ish as possible, so if you hit a flush you can feel comfortable putting in as much money as possible. You want hands that can flop top set so you very rarely get “coolered.”

BP: Going back to the notion that it all really depends on your opponent; how long does it usually take for you to gauge the experience-level of your opponent? In other words, figure out some of the tendencies?

MS: Using a [heads-up dsplay] really helps me collect all the information I have in a very short amount of time to make a good assessment of my opponents. Things I’ll look out for: three-betting not very much or a lot, playing a high percentage of hands, lack of aggression and continuation betting flops and turns with a high frequency.

From just 20 hands, I’ll make a basic assessment of my opponent, albeit an assessment I know is affected by general variance of just a 20-hand sample, and refine from there. The hands my opponent take to showdown is also very helpful to me in seeing how they play parts of their range, and I’ll make extensive notes based on those.

BP: Can we talk about a specific, hypothetical example for a minute. Let’s say you are value-betting the queen-high flush on a non-paired board, and your opponent just calls you with the king-high flush, would that be an example of a “lack of aggression” you would make note of? I know there are more variables to it, like if you raised preflop and so on, but is it fair to say that opponents who aren’t good at raising for value might be exploitable, and more specifically “bluffable”, in future hands?

MS: I don’t think the opponent’s call is a mistake and it really depends on any dynamic we have of him raising rivers as a bluff. By raising he risks two things happening;

1) I might have the nut flush and put in a raise, putting him in a tough spot.
2) I might have the nut-flush blocker and put in a raise, putting him in a tough spot.

If they’re capable of the nut-flush blocker play, I can see just calling being fine. But of course it depends on the previous action up to the hand to really determine if it’s a mistake or not. If the flush turned and the action went check-check, you can feel superbly confident raising the king-high flush on the river for value as your opponent almost never has the nuts. However if the action went bet-bet-bet I think just calling, or maybe even folding is very reasonable!

BP: Interesting. So you need to always be wary of the possibility of being re-bluffed by a hand that has a blocker?

MS: Not always wary, but I think it’s something you have to keep in mind before re-opening the action, especially with a thin-value hand.

BP: Can you talk about some of the considerations of how to play top set on a draw-heavy board? Do you sometimes like waiting until the turn is a brick before jamming all the money in?

MS: Yes, very often having top set is like a draw. You’re drawing to a safe turn and even if the turn completes a draw you can almost always still call the turn to boat up. You also benefit from having a very disguised hand, so if the board pairs your opponent may put you on a missed draw instead and try to rep the hand you have. However, I’m far more likely to play that way with hands like top two-pair, bottom set and middle set. Top set coolers all the sets and two pairs and you’d hate for someone to have had bottom set, be willing to get the money in on the flop with 10-percent equity and let a scare card fall which ruins your action. ♠