Annie Duke is not only one of the best poker players around but is also one of the most respected tutors in the game
Annie Duke is in buoyant mood. Out on the balcony of her home in the Hollywood hills, she has just negotiated a successful deal and is excited at the idea of divulging strategy advice and opinion.
Whereas a lot of pros might shudder at the thought of giving away their secrets, Duke seems to revel in her status as one of poker’s foremost tutors. ‘The issue I have when most people teach is that they say, “You’re supposed to raise,” without explaining why. My approach to poker is a little different.’ She claims that all will be explained in her new book, set to come out in early 2009. ‘It has to do with decision-making science, I don’t think there’s any differentiation between cash games, tournament, online and live. I teach poker!’ she says with a grin.
There’s no doubt that Duke’s passion for poker education stems from the nurturing her brother provided when she first started the game over 15 years ago. ‘He spent three years [playing] before he started winning. What he did for me was make sure that I could be a winning player right away.’ And judging by her high-profile pupils and her regular involvement with poker camps, Duke certainly seems keen to continue the family tradition. Here, in this exclusive interview, Annie Duke passes on her top tips to help you become a winning player too.
WORKOUT ONE – POSITION
‘MY BROTHER WAS A COMPLETE POSITIONAL FREAKHEAD, WHICH IS GOOD, BECAUSE YOU SHOULD BE!’
Position drives your starting hands, the success rate of your bluffs and how much money you can get out of your good hands. The fact is that when you’re in position, it’s easier to extract money and it’s easier to get away from your hands. People have lost the importance of position because they’re saying things like ‘under the gun is the new button!’ That’s just an excuse to play bad.
If you went in with a strategy to fold 100% of your hands in the 1, 2 and 3 hole in a ten-handed game, I wouldn’t tell you that’s the worst thing I’d ever heard. My rule about opening in first position is I’m going to be at a disadvantage for the rest of the hand, so I’m starting with the best hand. If anyone calls me, I want it to come out of the blind, because then I have the best position on them. Let’s say you have a hand like 6?-7? and the board comes three spades and it goes bet, move in, call, you lose zero on that hand because you fold. If you go first, you have to bet that hand because you can’t let a free card come off. So you bet, and there’s a move-in and a call. You fold and you now have a bet in the pot. Everything’s easier when you go second. Think about how great this line of play is? You bet into me (on the flop), I flat-call. I get to watch what you do on the turn. What usually happens is, you check, I bet and you fold. That’s a very cheap bluff where I get to see you act twice. If you lead into me again on the turn and I get all this information on whether I should fold or raise. It’s such an inexpensive line of play. Out of position, tell me how you execute that bluff? I can’t check-call because it doesn’t buy me anything because I don’t see what you do on the turn. Am I going to check-call and then lead into you? That’s a weird play. Am I going to check-raise on the flop? That’s really bad because I wouldn’t check-raise a big hand on the flop. If I want to bluff it always involves a check-raise which is very expensive. I only ever get to see you act on one street so I’m getting half the information at usually three and a half to four times the cost.
WORKOUT TWO – MATHS
‘WHEN PEOPLE SAY THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT THE MATH, I’M LIKE, “YOU’RE NOT A POKER PLAYER. YOU’RE PLAYING SOMETHING ELSE.”’
Poker is an investment. It’s about taking your money and making profit. Would you ever invest with a stockbroker who said he didn’t care about the mathematics of the market? He says he’s going to invest based on what stocks he feels will do well. You’d be like, ‘Are you a moron?’ Yet they accept this answer from poker players. Poker players are financial managers. I would love to invest with a stock broker who had a very good sense of the maths and also a good feel for the market. But the base is all mathematics or you’re fucked.
Most of the cases that people think they’re getting implied odds, they’re actually not. Suited connectors are a good example of that because people don’t really want action with them. You have 7?-6? and the board comes K-10-3 with two spades. If you bet it you don’t really want to get called. If two people call you and the board hits a spade, do you really want action? They can see the spades and the flush has just completed and you have 7-high! If you bet and they raise you, you want to throw up – so how can you have implied odds on the hand? People always say, I have implied odds if I make the flush. But you don’t have implied odds because you’re rooting for a fold.
I think pot odds are an illusion with a hand like suited connectors. You’re only going to flop a flush draw, one in every nine tries. Your hand is only going to be good 3% of the time. There aren’t enough chips to justify it from a pot odds point of view. In multiway pots, there are more players in the pot, but it’s not enough to compensate for how difficult your decisions are. The pot might be big but that doesn’t mean you had the pot odds. They are separate things. What are you going to do if you make a flush? What are you going to do with a flush draw? When you go down those decision trees and you see how they dead-end, you really get it into your head that you shouldn’t be playing that hand.
WORKOUT THREE – HAND ANALYSIS
‘I WAS VERY LUCKY TO HAVE THE RESOURCE OF MY BROTHER TO DECONSTRUCT HANDS WITH.’
Any time you’re forced to look at what you do critically and you have to explain in a very clear way why you did what you did, it will point out holes in your own game. Even just talking it out will point out holes. ‘I was thinking this…oh, wait…’ For me, the teaching that I do is extremely helpful to my game. If I can’t explain to someone with absolute clarity a concept that I’m trying to get them to understand, then I’ve got to rethink the concept.
When you choose to analyse your hand with a buddy, obviously pick the best player that you can find. When you get into that dialogue with your friend, justify your play to him. That means you have to logically be able to say: ‘I did this because…’ Otherwise, it’s going to be a very one-sided argument. I would say to Howard, ‘But this player was doing this and this is why I thought this.’ I told him whether the player was tight or loose, whether I had been winning or losing recently, what kind of plays I’d been making. I quickly realised that I should be describing the circumstances and giving him reasons why I made the play as I did.
When I teach, I ask my students, ‘If you do this, what do you do on the next street? What’s going to happen if they call? What’s going to happen if they raise?’ You have to really think through all the decisions that are going to happen after the decision that you make. How effective is that against the range of hands they might have? Is it getting you the information you might need?
WORKOUT FOUR – PLAYING CONCEPTUALLY-CORRECT POKER
‘MY BROTHER WAS NEVER LIKE, “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE’. IT WAS ALWAYS, ‘THIS IS WHAT I THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE.”’
Too much teaching is like, ‘Raise three times the big blind.’ Do you know why to raise three times the big blind? You just do. Do you think that’s a good strategy to just ‘do’? There are times when raising three times the big blind is completely inappropriate. If you don’t know why, how are you supposed to adjust to situations? How do you know when to limp? Or raise four times the big blind? Or two and a half times?
We raise to three times the big blind pre-flop for four reasons. Firstly it’s about the size of the pot. That means that you have to be successful with that raise about half the time. That’s good as the mere fact that you’ve raised, if you’re raising effectively, will get you into profit.
Three times the big blind is also an amount that causes your opponent to be selective and also means you can narrow down the range of hands that they’re holding.
Thirdly, three times usually gets you heads-up which is extremely important in no limit hold’em. Hold’em is a battle of who wins when nobody has a hand. So you want to discourage action and win when you don’t make anything.
The last reason is that it gives you a real lead on the pot. Once you know that, now you can make judgements about the raise.
WORKOUT FIVE – AGRESSION VERSUS FAST PLAY
‘WE’RE IN A FASTER AGE OF POKER.’
There’s a difference between playing fast and playing aggressively. It’s important to understand what real aggression is. A lot of times when you’re playing against fast players, the aggressive play is to let them impale themselves on your chips, not necessarily play fast back. Aggression is about taking control of your opponent. I don’t want people to think that aggression just means, sticking your money in the pot. Sometimes the most aggressive move you can do is to slow the play down.
The aggressive move, before the flop is almost always the same as the faster move. But after the flop there are a lot of opportunities to take control of the pot. Let’s say, I have A-Q and the board comes A-9-2 no suits. Against a hyper-aggressive player, how can I deduce whether they have A-J or A-K? Against A-J, they have a 12% chance to win; against A-K, I have a 12% chance to win. In this situation, against the hands that are worse than mine, I might as well have a set. But against the hands that are better than mine, they might as well have a set. Most people’s reaction is that if someone bets into them they raise. The problem is you’re just going to get raised back by a player who plays really fast. And that kind of player is right to do so. By raising you told that guy that you don’t have a set. Who would raise a set on an A-9-2 board? No one. So you’ve told the hyper- aggressive player that if they move in, you’ll fold because your hand couldn’t possibly stand a re-raise. So what you think is an aggressive move, is a weak play because it shows that you’re trying to end the pot. When they bet into you, just call. Now they’re scared. If they lead into you on the turn, you can raise and they’ll fold A-K.
WORKOUT SIX – TELLING STORIES
‘ONCE YOU TELL A STORY, YOU’VE GOT TO TELL IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.’
The strongest stories are told on the turn and not on the flop. People think it’s strong to raise on the flop but it’s not. Once you understand this you can make some very interesting plays on the flop. It’s a matter of knowing what story you are telling your rival. What is the truly aggressive way to play this hand? Aggression means telling a strong story and having a strong presence at the table. Against beginners it’s more about knowing their story as they think that betting means strength. Use that to your advantage.
If you bet into me on an A-9-2 no-suits board with A-K and I raise you, you’re going to push in. But now the turn comes a 10 and you lead again with your A-K and now I raise you. How aggressive could you be? Is your hand good?
The problem for hyper-aggressive players playing against me is that I’m going to make that same play with a set, and with Aces, Nines and A-K. I might make the same play with nothing at all. If I know you’re hyper- aggressive, I’m never going to raise you on that flop. I’m going to call and see what happens on the turn. If you check to me, I’m checking back. I’m not going to let you check-raise me. I’m not going to put that money in when I can put it in on the river as a call. I can bet and let you check-raise me off this hand. So I might bet 60% of the pot and lose that when you check-raise me or I’m going to win nothing. Either you’re going to check-raise bluff me, check-raise value bet me or you’re going to fold. So I win nothing or lose the pot. But if I don’t put that money in now and just let you bet into me until the river, I’m losing the exact same amount of money but I’m not folding the best hand anymore.
PokerPlayer magazine regularly interviews the greats such as Annie Duke HERE