If there was an Olympic Games of Poker then this would be our team GB
The Olympic Games were a huge success for Team GB this summer. Athletes like Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah all helped Great Britain to an amazing third-place finish in the medals table, ahead of superpowers such as Russia and Germany. The Games sought to ‘inspire a generation’ but before we look out the running shoes and cycling shorts there is one other ‘sport’ GB has been running rampant in for years: poker. Whether it’s high-stakes cash games, the WSOP or online tournament rankings UK poker is riding high. But if the Olympics drafted poker into the 2016 Games – admittedly not likely – who would make up the five-strong Team GB line-up?
PokerPlayer has picked a motley bunch that has all areas of the game covered, from online heads-up play to ruthless aggression. Not only that, we’re also going to teach you how to follow in their footsteps.
Inspire a generation and all that…
TOURNAMENT WINNINGS: $3,325,604
SPECIALITY: Live game selection
CHANNING HIGHLIGHT: This cash game video from 2008 shows Channing slow-playing pocket Aces in an attempt to lure the fish on the table, notably Jamie Gold, into playing a pot with him. Ignore the idiotic commentary.
If you speak to Neil Channing he’ll be the first person to tell you his poker skills can’t compare to many of the UK’s young stars. However, Channing deserves to be in this team because he’s managed to rack up over $3 million in tournament earnings and be a consistently big winner in the UK’s biggest cash games. He would also expertly fill the father figure role à la Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Chris Hoy. Surely a knighthood awaits for services to degeneracy.
One of Channing’s main strengths is he has no poker ego – he’s a master at getting into soft poker games and taking money from the fish. Game selection is a really underrated skill. In live poker you are usually just assigned a table and then left to deal with it. It’s important to quickly identify who the weaker players at that table are. It’s easy to do live – you’re looking for players that limp in a lot, seem to be calling stations and have irregular bet-sizing. Channing makes this process even easier by engaging all players in constant chat. It’s amazing what you can find out about a player if you talk to them; they may give up that they are a rich businessman who’s only just learnt to play or they may mention that they play nine tables online. This information is vital when deciding which players to play against.
Once you have a target you must try and get involved in as many pots as possible with the fish while avoiding pointless battles with the good players at the table. Small pairs go up in value significantly because if you hit a set there’s a chance you can stack the fish – it’s also crucial that you play your monster hands straightforwardly but aggressively as they will pay you off with second-best hands. Game selection is often overlooked but players like Channing (and to an extent Phil Hellmuth) have made a sweet living off it – there’s no reason why you can’t either.
TOURNAMENT WINNINGS: $3,156,032
CODY HIGHLIGHT: Jake Cody burst onto the scene in 2010 with a win at EPT Deauville. In this crucial hand from the final table Cody shows the aggression that has since become his trademark.
It’s become a bit of a cliché that aggression is the most important skill in poker and nobody exemplifies this better than Jake Cody. The Triple Crown winner is an easy pick for Team GB, and much of his tournament success is because of the pressure he constantly puts on his opponents at the tables. Aggression begins preflop. It’s vital that you target players in position by threebetting a lot with a whole range of hands, both for value and bluffs. You’re doing this not only to win the pot right away but also because you’ll then have the initiative for the rest of the hand. You should be continuation-betting almost all flops whether you have it or not and, depending on the board texture, it’s also important on occasion to try and represent a monster by barrelling both turns and rivers. The more pots you can win by using aggression and avoiding a showdown the better – especially in tournaments because it will significantly reduce your variance.
On his way to winning EPT Deauville Cody famously five-bet shoved preflop with T-4 and outdrew his opponent’s K-K for a huge pot. While he may have looked foolish at the time his mindset is perfect for tournament poker – don’t be afraid to put it all on the line if you think your opponent may fold. You can adapt this in your own game. If you feel someone is playing back at you preflop because of an aggressive dynamic it’s important to occasionally four-bet bluff or jam on him with weak hands. Even more frequently you should be putting three streets of pressure on players who likely have a capped, marginal range. For example, a player raises in the cut-off and you call on the button with 7-9 suited. The flop is K-T-5 and he checks to you. It’s possible that the preflop raiser is attempting to trap but much more likely that he has a hand like Q-Q, J-J, A-T, J-T and wants to control the pot size out of position. Don’t allow him to do this and just barrel away.
If he has part of this assigned range he’ll almost always fold the river allowing you to pick up a big pot.
TOURNAMENT WINNINGS: $2,700,162
MOORMAN SPECIALITY: Online MTTs
MOORMAN HIGHLIGHT: Moorman wields a big stack on the final table of the 2011 WSOPE Main Event. Moorman eventually finished 2nd for $1,068,690.
Chris Moorman has a case to be considered the greatest online MTT player in history with over $7 million in online winnings. Moorman is undoubtedly a great player but the real key to his success comes from his mastery of a vital poker skill – the ability to put in lots of volume while consistently playing your ‘A’ game. As variance is so high in tournaments the best way to make money (assuming you’re a winning player) is to play a lot of them. This means hard work and long hours sat grinding away when you may prefer to do something else. The rewards may sometimes be glamorous but the commitment and constant disappointment from crashing out along the way is anything but.
Online tournament poker can batter away at your confidence when you’re running bad. That’s why it is so hard – but essential – to always try and maintain your ‘A’ game. Attempt to discard the bigger picture of how your day, week or month is going and only focus on making the best decisions you possibly can on each table. If you feel you’re not able to do this because you’re tired, tilted or just not in the mood then don’t log on (or don’t register for any new tournaments). When you are incapable of playing your best you’re just banking on luck to help you win, and that’s not going to be a good long term bet.
TOURNAMENT WINNINGS: $1,152,939
SCHWARTZ SPECIALITY: Online heads-up cash games
SCHWARTZ HIGHLIGHT: The heads-up specialist is almost as famous for his mouth as his poker skills. Schwartz demonstrates both – and his mastery of board textures – in this classic hand from a past series of Party Poker Premier League.
Heads-up poker is a different beast to six-max and full ring. Hand values change, and the aggression level is ramped up while the variance is massively increased. One of the UK’s biggest heads-up online winners in recent years has been the controversial Luke ‘FullFlush’ Schwartz. The main reason for Schwartz’s success is that he’s a phenomenal postflop player. To be a big winner heads-up you have to quickly get acquainted with flop textures and how to react on them. When a board texture is ‘wet’ it means there are a large number of potential draws and hands that your opponent could have if they continue to show aggression. A good example would be 9♣-T♣-J♠ where, depending on the preflop action, either player could have a set, a straight, two pair or a huge draw. In contrast a ‘dry’ board would be one such as 2♣-6♠-K♦ where top pair is more likely.
There are no draws on this board so if you get played back at it will be more likely that your opponent is bluffing because the only value hands he could feasibly have are sets and good top pairs, of which there are relatively few combos. You must react differently to both of these scenarios. On a wet board it’s important to play your made hands quickly to try and get it all-in when you still have an equity edge. On a dry board if you have a made hand it makes much more sense to allow your opponents to bluff into you because there are less obvious outs that could outdraw you.
Early in heads-up play it’s also really important to get a read on how all your opponents play Ace-high flops. The more passive players will only c-bet once before giving up unless they have an Ace. These guys are brilliant to play against because you can float the flop at will and fire all rivers if the turn is checked through. On the other hand, you don’t want to become one of these players yourself. It’s vital you stay aggressive and remain unpredictable heads-up so that opponents can’t easily put you on a range of hands.
TRICKETT SPECIALITY: High-stakes cash games
TRICKETT HIGHLIGHT: Trickett took
centre-stage at this year’s WSOP by finishing runner-up in the $1m Big One For One Drop event, winning over $10m. In this pivotal hand Trickett puts a massive cooler on fellow pro Brian Rast.
Despite being by far the UK’s biggest money-winner in live tournaments it is the world of high-stakes cash games where Sam Trickett regularly plies his trade. And his winnings in the Macau private games, where he plays alongside a cast including Phil Ivey, John Juanda and Tom Dwan, are rumoured to be in the multi-millions.
Trickett excels in tough cash games because he is an expert in using metagame to his advantage. Metagame is when you use past history and known assumptions with any opponent to influence your decisions at the table. For example, against an unknown opponent you may fold A-Q to a shove preflop as it is behind a conventional shoving range. But if that opponent has already seen that you are capable of four-betting light, or he’s steaming after a few bad beats, or even if there is an aggressive dynamic between the two of you and you suspect he will jam worse hands for value, then metagame dictates you should call.
Using metagame to your advantage is essential once you reach the mid- and high-stakes, online or live. It stops your play from becoming too robotic and predictable as you are now reacting to the opponent and situations surrounding you, instead of just a mathematical formula for playing the exact cards and situations that are dealt.
In Trickett’s world, the metagame is exceptionally important. Opponents like Ivey are not going to make fundamental errors and so the only way to win money from them is by using past history to your advantage. While it’s unlikely you will ever play in such difficult games, having an appreciation of these metagame concepts will significantly increase your win-rate. Instead of acting blindly next time you have a major decision stop and think for a second. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes, try to work out what they are thinking (and why) and act accordingly. By going one step beyond you’ll soon gain a significant edge.