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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Dec 24, 2014


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November 2 — Towards the end of the night games get good because people are stuck and need to work in the morning. 2PM is different then 2AM.

Most people that have played live poker will agree that, in general, night games are of better overall quality than day games. This is due to a number of factors, some of which include the average age of recreational opponents being younger at night, degree of alcohol inebriation being higher, and what seems to be an overall gambling atmosphere that happens as the night turns into early morning.

One of the biggest things I have noticed, however, amongst the pool of recreational players is that weekday evening play tends to be somewhat erratic. Now I am not saying that I would rather play on a Monday night as opposed to a Saturday just due to the lack of selection in games, but I have found through my experience that recreational players that have to go to work the next day, e.g. have some sort of deadline as to when they have to leave the casino, tend to “blow up” at the end of their session and may lose their entire stack on one dumb play. It is as if these players may not have gotten their proper gambling fix for the day and want to get into a huge confrontation and thus gamble. These are absolutely not the best times to bluff these types of players, as they will look at the clock and make a big call off knowing that they have to leave.

When you notice that someone is itching to go, these are the times to really value bet more. No one wants to drive to the casino to fold and if nothing fulfilling has happened in their session they certainty do not want to be bluffed out or worse leave wondering if they got bluffed out of a pot.

You see, it is the same type of thing with small business owners that play during the day but have to get back to their jobs at some point. If you watch closely towards the end of their playing time, they will get antsy and tend to drive the action or try to get involved in a big pot. Unfortunately, the rest of the daytime recreational players are usually older retirees that are not on the same time restriction. Also, the need to leave at night is much stronger during the week for normal recreational players than during the day, which is why late night games during the week can be so good.

Lastly, you can really pound on opponents that play badly if they have been losing throughout their session. You have seen the type—the guys that only are at the casino late because they are “stuck”. Of course, we know that they are going about it exactly the wrong way and extending their session with a bad image to chase their loses. Usually recreational players play very badly when they are behind in a session and you can easily pounce to exploit them.

November 5 — In general the shorter the starting stacks the less the overall skill and the greater the variance.

One of the things you have to realize about big bet poker is that the shorter the stacks are at the table the less skill there is involved to win especially in the short term. This can be very deceiving when you first start playing cash games or tournaments, as in smaller cash games the buy-ins are usually heavily restricted and in smaller buy-in tournaments the blinds move up fast and you do not get many starting chips.

Unfortunately, unless you are playing some of the bigger buy-in tournaments, tournament play will always have a lot of luck involved with it and a ton of short-term variance. Especially in live play, it can be extremely difficult to even know if someone is a plus expected value player in multi-table tournaments with the high rake and slow pace of play. I know a lot of big winning cash game players, and I include myself in this category, that have never made a major score in a live tournament and are most likely down in their careers overall. Does this mean that they are bad tournament players? Absolutely not. In fact, I would take a lot of these players over other so-called tournament super stars in deeper-stacked structures and most of their lack of success comes from being on the bad side of variance and lack of volume.

However, luckily for those who are trying to play poker for profit, cash games now have deeper stacked restricted buy-in structures even at the small stakes. I remember before 2008 where there were only uncapped no-limit games, usually $5-$10 and higher and then forty big blind capped games. There was absolutely nothing in between. At the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, which is where I play most of my poker, they had a huge gap between the uncapped $10-$20 game and the next smallest game, which was a $400 max buy-in $5-$10 structure. That’s right a $5-$10, no-limit game capped at a forty big blind (BB) buy-in. It was a pretty ludicrous setup and, much like the game below that, which was a $2-$5, $200 cap buy-in, had huge variance. There were times in that game where I might go on a twenty buy-in downswing doing almost nothing wrong. It is really tough to fold overpairs that shallow and it was not all that bad for your opponents to flop top pair or some sort of draw and just push you all-in.

When the Commerce introduced the $500-$1,500 buy-in $5-$10 game, a game I played full time from 2008-2010, I found that my variance drastically decreased. In fact, there were only two times during that period where I matched my largest downswing in the $400 game and I was buying in for three times as much! My results support my contention that players that are skilled have more of an advantage in deeper stack play and thus their winrates will be increased. With a larger win rate, your standard deviation decreases and you go through smaller (proportionally) downswings.

Eventually, the Commerce eliminated the $400 game and instituted a $5-$5, $300-$500 cap game. Now even though the cap in this game is only 100BBs, the structure is far better than its 40BB predecessor and lends itself to the better players having more advantage over the weaker ones. This game is still not as good as a 200BB-capped game, which now you can find at several different casinos in Los Angeles at the $5 blind level.

The reason why it is important to understand how stack size correlates to variance is because, if you feel like you are a winning player, you should try and work on your game so that you are comfortable sitting as deep as possible. That is usually where your largest winrate will be found. That is not to say that you cannot play a shorter stack profitably, but with the slow pace and fewer hands in live poker you will find that playing deeper will usually equate to a higher hourly rate, which is how winning players judge their live performance. ♠

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on Twitter @CrushLivePoker and @BartHanson. Check out his poker training site exclusively made for live cash game play at where he produces weekly podcasts and live training videos.