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My "Tips For Me" Notebook

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: May 19, 2015

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Bob CiaffoneShortly after I went back to playing poker regularly at the start of 2013, I decided to keep a notebook where I wrote tips to myself on how to play better. These were divided into general tips, no-limit hold’em tips, and pot-limit Omaha (PLO) tips. Although I can play practically all forms of poker, nearly all my cash game play nowadays is at no-limit hold’em and PLO. Although I prefer PLO for enjoyment, it is a more volatile game, so in a must-win situation, no-limit hold’em is my usual choice.

Keeping a notebook proved to be an excellent idea. Even though I am not learning a whole bunch of new ideas that must be written down, it is still good for my improvement as a player. It makes it easier to keep discipline. (If you have ever kept records for a weight-loss program, you will know what I mean.) It stops me from falling into bad habits. It induces me to work hard to avoid repetitive errors, and it helps me remember errors better. Lastly, it enables me to share my poker thoughts with you. Here are some of my general strategy tips.

(1) If you do not know how a poker player plays, do not risk putting a big move on him.

There have been a lot of wagers that I made over a lifetime where I was trying to get my opponent to fold, failed, and then looked back and said to myself, “if you ever try to run that guy out of a pot again, you need to see a psychiatrist.” Some people will not fold no matter how cleverly you build a betting sequence. Sometimes a big decision on little information cannot be avoided. Even so, try not to put your tournament on the line when you do not know what you are getting into. The same goes for big money in a cash game.

(2) In a bigger game, do not experiment for a lot of money.

It is good to vary your game and good to try new ideas. However, risking half a grand by seeing if a certain player will try to run over you if you check to him is not a move I would repeat. I checked in a spot I could have won the pot with a bet—and I knew it! The guy took a free card to his king-high flush draw, hit it, and then bet me out of the pot on the next betting round. I now know he might not go for a steal when checked to. Big deal. I also felt like the dumbest person in the room for the rest of the day.

(3) I am not being aggressive enough when there is a player who is all in.

There is an unwritten poker code of conduct that says the right thing to do when a player is all in is to check unless you think you can beat the all-in player. This code is frequently applied in tournament play, especially when the elimination of a player allows everyone remaining to cash for additional money. In that setting, it is normally good poker to check. In a cash game, it might be right to bet a draw before your opponent with a live hand bets his draw or mediocre made hand. Even in a tournament, it could be right to bet. You may not win the Mr. Nice Guy award, but you might be improving your chances in the event. Tournament superstar Phil Hellmuth is excellently aggressive in making that type of decision, maybe even the best. He has hurt his chance of getting the nice guy award (it has been ages since Phil won that prize), but he substantially improves his tournament chances.

I saw a hand in a PLO game a few months ago where a player with a small pair bet $400 after all the cards were out and a player was all in. He was quite sure from the way everyone was whining that no one had much. We all folded. The all-in player had a big draw that did not materialize, so the bettor’s two sixes won over half a grand. So much for chivalry.

(4) I am showing down too many losers where a small bet might have won the pot.

My friend Bobby Hoff was a fine exponent of small bets at the river to win pots where he had nothing. He told me, “You only need to win about one out of five to break even.” The fact of the matter is people are so aggressive betting their drawing hands that they often find themselves at the river with nothing to show down. A small bet will often stop their steal and win the pot for you. I am making a conscious effort to improve this part of my game and am pleased with the results so far. I am surprised by the number of times an opponent who had me beaten folded on the end to a small bet of 10 percent to 25 percent of the pot.

(5) Even if you have a decent-sized pair, being in early position is still detrimental, as you can get a flop that has an open pair where position is very important.

This observation applies to both no-limit hold’em and PLO. I have always played a lot of attention to my position when I have a drawing hand. Good position is crucial to a draw. It can get you a free card when a check acting first might have exposed you to a big bet. It can allow you to run a successful bluff, not even requiring you to hit your draw. Good position is helpful with any hand, but I now feel the need to pay more attention than previously to position with a made hand. The main idea is to not play any borderline hands up front, so on the big pots, I will not have to play so many of them with poor position. For example, in a no-limit hold’em game, I am less likely to raise than previously on hands such as A-K offsuit and A-Q offsuit. I just limp in and see how the pot develops. I should point out that the strategy I am talking about is primarily for a cash game. In a tournament situation, especially when the blinds are going up every half hour or so, you need to be more aggressive in entering pots. I do not feel any pressure to enter pots when playing in a cash game, especially in games where there is an inexpensive blind structure, such as $2-$5 blinds when most of the players have half a grand or more in chips. Furthermore, when the money is deep relative to the blind structure, good position on all your hands goes up in value. The biggest change in my poker strategy to my present methods is to play tighter even on my quality hands when my position is going to be shaky on the post-flop betting rounds. I also lay the opponent a terrible price when raising if he wants to take a shot at my stack. ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at bobciaffone@gmail.com. Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.