Matt Matros: Make the move from online and beat the live game regulars (part 1)

CardRunners pro Matt Matros explains the adjustments you must make when transitioning from online MTTs to the live game…

I’m going to assume you have absolutely no experience playing live tournaments in this article. If you’re strictly an online player there are tons of differences. But don’t worry, we will cover every element so you are well-equipped to conquer both the online and live poker kingdoms.

The rules

Betting and raising

On the internet it is pretty simple, you just click buttons and it’s hard to break any rules for betting or calling and so on. But in a casino you can definitely break rules and accidentally raise when you think you are calling or fold when you think you are raising! It happens all the time, but you can avoid it. The simplest thing you can do is declare your intentions before you move any chips. Verbally declare ‘I want to bet x’ and then throw your chips however you want and your verbal bet will stand. Some prefer not to speak – maybe because you don’t want to give away tells through your voice – then you can just use your chips but it’s easy to make mistakes doing his. Even experienced players make mistakes. You want to do everything in one single motion. Have the chips in your hands you want to use for betting or raising and move them into the pot all at once.

When facing a bet or raise, throwing a single chip into the pot is just a call. For example, the blinds may be 25/50 and you throw out a 500 chip without saying anything – that is just a call! The reason is it’s unclear what you are doing so this avoids any confusion. Be careful if you are only putting one chip into the pot and make sure you say what you are doing or it won’t count as a raise.

Never take chips off the table

This is very important advice for newcomers – never put tournament chips in your pocket! If you do this you may very well lose these chips. They will come out of play completely. The safest thing you can do when you are told to move from one table to another (which should be the only time your chips ever come off the table) is to put all of your chips into a rack. Without a rack you may drop them on the floor and lose some. Finally, never take your chips to the toilet with you – it’s not a good idea.

Stack sizes

You are allowed to ask what your opponent’s stack sizes are at any time, even if the opponent doesn’t want to tell you. If your opponent just shows you their chips instead of speaking then the dealer is obliged to count it for you and give you an exact number. It’s one of your rights as a player.

Other rules to know

Any tapping motion in front of your chips may be interpreted as a check, even if you do it subconsciously. It’s down to the dealer’s discretion. If you just say the word ‘check’ instead you cannot make mistakes.

At major tournaments you must use the English language only at the tables. It’s to prevent collusion from players speaking languages that others do not understand. It usually only brings a warning if you speak a foreign language so it’s not a big deal.

Similarly, many poker rooms will not allow you to discuss a hand while it is ongoing, even if you are in the hand yourself. It may be against the rules even to say something like, ‘did you hit that King?’ to your opponent, depending on the card room. It’s a silly rule in many ways but you have to abide by the law.

Keeping track of the numbers

The next thing we must do is retain as much of the information we are gifted online as possible. The first of these is your own stack size. This is one of the most relevant facts you need when it comes to deciding how to play your hand. On the internet this number is right in front of you but it’s a little trickier to decipher live.

I recommend stacking your chips in columns of 20 so they are easy to count. Once you start doing this you’ll become very accustomed to what each stack equals – such as a stack of 5k chips equals 100k and so on. This will be very helpful and save you lots of time working out your stack size. You can now use this extra time working out how to play your stack instead!

Not only do you need to keep track of your stack size but you also need to be aware of the pot size. Again, in online poker this is right in front of you. In real life it’s not. Know how much is in the pot before any player acts by counting the size of the blinds and antes. Once you have that number in your head it will be much easier to add the amount of calls, raises and bets on top to give you a general, if not exact, figure on the pot size. Another tip to simplify this counting is just to round off to the nearest 100 or 1,000 – we don’t have to be exact.

At all good live tournaments there will be TVs displaying a ton of critical information. This will include the blind structure, time remaining in the current blind level, how many players remain and the average stack size. Make sure you are constantly referring to these TVs – they are the equivalent of online poker’s tournament lobby. This information will give you a great indicator of how the tournament is progressing.

Live tournament etiquette

We’ve looked at the hard and fast rules, so now it’s time to look at that fuzzier set of rules known as etiquette. The most basic piece of etiquette is acting in turn. This means that if you look at your hand and know you are going to fold 100% of the time – while desperately needing the toilet – you still must wait until the people in front of you have acted before you fold. It’s a courtesy for the players that have to act before you because if you fold early it can affect their decisions. You will annoy people if you act out of turn and talk someone into raising who was considering a fold. If you consistently act out of turn you will usually get a penalty too. Be patient and wait your turn.

Another piece of etiquette is that you should not ask to see mucked hands. This is despite having the right to see them if requested. This can often be strange for online players that often see mucked hands automatically. There is not a great reason for this etiquette – obviously the information that can be gained from seeing your opponent’s hand is crucial – but it’s just not the way it is done in live poker. If you want to be known as the guy that everyone on the table dislikes then go ahead and ask. If the information is worth more to you than your reputation then go for it! Honestly, even though the information is valuable, I think you’re better off not asking to see mucked hands. When the whole table is angry at you it doesn’t usually work to your advantage. It’s much better if the table is docile and friendly towards you so that they are often not aggressive in pots with you. You can see that this friendly demeanour is often better just by looking at some of the game’s top live pros such as Daniel Negreanu. Also, most of the time when a player mucks their hand you can pretty much narrow down what they had anyway if you think back over the action.

You should turn your hand over quickly if your all-in is called, or if you are called on the river – and especially so if your hand is likely to be the winner. Make sure you never slowroll anyone. Be prompt at a showdown, but careful that you don’t expose your hand before the action is complete!

Finally, if you need to take a lot of time over your decision then feel free to ask for it. Mention to the other players that you need to take some time over this and they will usually be fine with it. Any player at the table always has the right to call the clock on you but it does not happen too often, especially if you have mentioned that you have a tough decision. Even when this happens you still have at least a minute to act – which is a lifetime when compared to online poker!

The live player’s (bad) philosophy 

That’s enough of the logistical stuff! Now I want to talk about more interesting stuff like the differences in poker philosophy between live players and their internet counterparts. The old-school tournament player’s philosophy is all about survival. The best example I can give is when live players love to say ‘you can’t win the tournament on day one but you sure can lose it’. The best part about this saying is that, for these people, it is true. They create a whole philosophy that says whatever you do, do not go broke on day one. If you’re a good tournament player you know this is ridiculous! The idea is to win all the chips and in order to do that you need to start winning as many as possible on the first day. Take advantage of this reluctance to go broke on day one. Internet players look to build a stack – live players look to avoid going broke.

Another phrase you will often hear is, ‘don’t risk your whole tournament on a draw’. Live players tend to view hands not in terms of equity but in terms of made hands and draws. There is a big difference between the two in a typical live player’s mind and they won’t want to put in their whole stack without having a made hand. This applies to semi-bluffing too, meaning you will never see a tight live player shove all-in with a flush draw early in a tournament. In online poker you see this all the time.

A third key phrase is, ‘I can wait for a better spot’. In general, when a live player plays a huge pot in a tournament – especially early on – they will have a huge hand to go along with it!

Don’t miss the second instalment of Matt Matros’s guide to transitioning to live tournaments continues as he looks at the vast differences in preflop playing styles – click here now!


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