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Your having a laugh!

I fell about the place laughing when Poker News' Tony G asked me to write a strategy piece about on-line poker and to highlight the differences between it and the traditional face-to-face game.

Did they not know my 1,500-word masterpiece in the recently published Ladbrokes Poker Diary – comparing the relative merits of either discipline – was clearly and massively biased towards live play?

Curiously, the concluding paragraph of my original script was omitted from that diary. It read: "So, to draw to an end I will stick by one of my favourite comparisons that of American Pool against Britain's Snooker different mindset, different strategy, deeper pockets and bigger balls!"

Stranger yet, as copies were going out to tens of thousands of their on-line customers, the rest of the piece was actually published!

Of course, since then, everything has changed and Internet poker is simply the greatest creation of all time. No, the Ladbrokespoker.com management did not choke on their cornflakes whilst checking my fee and ascertaining how quickly they can terminate my contract as their sponsored pro prompting this retraction.

You see I've genuinely come to enjoy spending my evenings in front of a computer screen clicking buttons. It's in no small part due to a recent $50,000 tournament win and consistent earnings in cash Omaha games.

Against The Odds

In hindsight, I think my disapproval centred around bad plays and bad players simply getting lucky by winning situations as outsiders in confrontations they should have never gotten themselves into.

It is, of course, ideal when you go into a head-to-head situation facing an even-money pay-off as 2/5 favourite (JsJh vs QdTc for example) but, as in any form of gambling, these good things do get beaten in their turn and you will be most fortunate to go through an entire tournament with all your odds-on shots successfully standing up.

One day, long ago back in a time when the Internet was an evil evil thing, I held AdQd, stuck in enough chips to get head-to-head with my hand and was delighted to find a TdJsKd flop – indeed the stuff fairytales are made of but actually true.

Now tell me, at this juncture holding the nut-straight and nut-flush draw what price was I about losing this pot?

Lose it I did when my opponent clicked the minimum raise button over my tiny bet on the flop. Interpreting this as a request for action and putting him on trips (three-of-a-kind) or even the made straight, I re-raised all-in and found his 'call-any' box already checked. Unbelievably a pair of pocket 9's was immediately revealed and he found running Kings to make a full-house! What a nightmare.

That was a 1/33 shot turned over and enough to make even the most mild mannered character head-but the monitor before dispatching it out of a top-floor window hoping it will land on the head of a nice but dim rich muppet the likes of which probably just bombed you out of the tournament.

Don't Despair

What do you really expect from Internet play though? The preponderance of players in cyberspace are disciples of televised poker who have regularly watched so called top players call all-ins with the likes of QK or move all-in with a pair of 33's.

Unfortunately this sort of play is all too familiar to our screens, as these specifically designed TV events are generally six-seater games with ever increasing blinds, which means beyond the fourth or fifth level of play the skill within the game is often reduced to that the blind man in three-card-brag.

These factors are not apparent to a novice viewing audience however, who are unable to grasp the complexities of position, timing and taking the odd gamble when you have 'pot-odds'.

The frustration involved with similar instances – say an early position all-in raise holding AK suited being called by a pair of 2's – is immeasurable. In fact it's around this time, or just after the 2's stand up, words like "WHAT DO YOU THINK I HAD MUPPET?" often appears in the chat box.

Here small factors – like if I'm taking on any pair, which is very possible, I'm a 4/1 outsider and against two over-cards (which has to be the case if they are not holding a pair) I'm just a marginal favourite at the very best (underdog against something like TJ suited) – simply fail to register.

I tend to think your own game can be brought down as a consequence of these happenings and soon you too will be calling all-ins with pairs of 5's because the above incident is fresh in the mind and you will talk yourself into believing the raiser holds something like a pair of 4's because it is what you want to them to have.

Rather Be Lucky Than Good?

Now we are entering completely new territory... bad play by yourself because of the bad play that surrounds you; a kind of "if he can play badly and get lucky so can I" theory which is right up there in the top-ten alongside the deadly sin of tilting. This is the point I had reached.

But, in case I failed to mention earlier, I did land a sizeable sum in an on-line tournament just recently. This was a big turning point for me, akin to an American obtaining a passport and actually using it, or a yet to be a born again Christian finding Jesus or discovering the Good Book.

But the only thing it really brought home was faith that good play will, eventually, conquer all the evil play that surrounds you.

What is determined to be good play though? You know 300-page books have been written on poker attempting to improve people's play yet they have failed miserably, so there is no chance my limited knowledge and a few pages here are going to show you the light.

Therefore, let's call the following 'key decision making moments' during that 2,000-entry event which I vividly recall despite nine hours in front the monitor.

Situation:

Two tables out and the blinds are 10,000/20,000; there are running antes of 500 (blinds posted by all players in every pot); the average stack is 277,000 because there are 18 players remaining and 5 million chips are in play; I have 280,000.

On the big blind holding Ts8c I find the player on the button has gone 'all-in' for 72,000 chips and everyone has passed.

It is 52,000 more chips on me to call with my poor hand – so is it an automatic pass?

Well, a fold would set me back to just under par with no real need to get itchy. A call and loss would send me down to 207,500 and give me mild indigestion.

The crux is the 52,000 that I stand to lose (as my 20,000 big blind is already dead money). For this extra 52,000 I have a crack at my opponents 72,000, a big and small blind totalling 30,000 and 4,500 in antes - that's 106,500 – giving 2/1 about my money.

With the maths now done, I have to consider what hands my opponent could be in possession of.

Over 1,980 people have now left the tournament and I am presuming the remainder have a sound enough understanding of the game and most would work on established formulas – such as raising when on the button, especially when relatively short stacked, with a high card.

Opponents Probable Hands:

A) The move therefore smacks of a big bare Ace with the player fancying he is in front at this juncture but does not want to see a flop. I strongly suspect this is the case. Although the side card is undetermined I'm obviously hoping it is a 7 or lower and the percentages favour it too.

B) Behind the Ace-high I have to then put him on a KQ, KJ, K9, Q9 or something similar (the likelihood of KT or QT is obviously lessened because I am holding a Ten myself).

C) Not believing he would move all-in at this point holding AA, KK and maybe QQ, I have to then surmise he is holding a small pair such as 22,33,44 etc.

D) I make the fourth most likely scenario two suited connected cards. These hands are becoming more and more popular with people who are increasingly aware that they are favourite to beat an under-pair. Holding T8 myself this could be problematic, although unlikely, as 9T and TJ use my high card which would dramatically lessen my chances of winning the confrontation.

E) Then comes what I consider the unlikely scenario of an over-pair.

F) A specific pair like 99 is a 220/1 shot but it would not all be bad news even with just a single over-card.

G) Matching cards like TT, 88 are obviously very unlikely.

The Approximate Odds OF T8 beating:

A) AK, AQ, AJ and similar: 36% 7/4

Ai) A7, A6, A3 and similar: 43% 11/8

B) KQ, KJ and similar: 35% 15/8

C) 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77: 49% 1/1

D) 67, 56 suited and similar: 60% 4/6

Di) 78, 89 suited and similar: 66% 1/2

Dii) 9T, TJ suited and similar: 28% 5/2

E) JJ, QQ, KK or similar: 16% 5/1

F) 99: 29% 5/2

G) TT: 11% 8/1

Gi) 88: 34% 15/8

Like I say, I strongly suspect the "button's" play revolves around a lone Ace (scenario A) and regardless of his kicker, if this is the case, the probability of me winning is shorter than the odds of 2/1 that I am getting for my investment.

It's ditto for the QK and the under-pair; in fact the only hands that do not give pot-odds for this call are those that I cannot seriously put my opponent on. The result, is therefore an automatic call.

Sadly it was an automatic loss too as I failed to get passed an A7!

Situation II:

Reaching the final table, I'm mortified when my AJ runs into AA. The confrontation leaves me with 105,000 chips, way below the 555,000 average (as we are 9-handed) and I'm suddenly waging a personal war with my fingertips, which are now itching to press the all-in button in a fit of tilt-fuelled frustration.

Passing the likes of 23, 49, 27, 36 whilst forfeiting 1,000 chips a time in running-antes, I now find myself on the big-blind [40,000 chips] holding A2.

A player in an early position moves all-in and it is passed around to me. My decisions are again simple: Call for my remaining 60,000 chips with the chance of winning my opponents 100,000, a 20,000 small blind and 9,000 in antes, which totals 129,900 and gives me just over 2/1 about my remaining money.

Even simpler, the total pot would be 229,000 meaning my 100,000 chips will be running on a little over 5/4 shot.

Here, to most, the second option (of passing) would not be an decision as, quite simply, too many chips are committed and the bitter pill of a 20,000 small blind is going to land on you next hand.

Some would swallow in the hope that they may be able to last in a little longer and a player is eliminated before the blinds come back around – after all the prize-structure at this stage means 8th is worth $3,000 more than 9th (which is in excess of $5,000 already) and 7th adds another $3,000 to the coffers after that.

Personally, I don't play tournaments to simply make the money but I'm also fully aware you have to lose battles to win wars and you are never going to wars if you knock yourself out.

Once again I consider if the pot-odds [my remaining chips will be getting against the possible hands I am facing] make this call mandatory.

Opponents Probable Hands:

For certain I am facing a big hand, which can only fall into two categories A) a big pair or B) an Ace with a very high kicker.

Would pocket Ace's be played so strongly? That's doubtful, but AK certainly would and that hand (any Ace with a sizeable kicker in fact) would be the worst possible hole-cards for me to tackle.

The Approximate Odds OF A2 beating:

A) AA 7.4 12/1

Ai) KK, QQ 28.8 5/2

B) AK, AQ, AJ or similar 26.8 11/4

Wars and battles aside, there is no value gambling against odds of 5/2 when victory pays odds of 5/4 and so this hand was passed.

Still firm in the belief that he was playing a 'big' Ace, I may well have decided to call holding something like TJ suited as the probability of winning against the potential payoff would be far more comparable.

It may seem very bizarre calling an all-in with T8 on one occasion and passing an A2 on another but I hope the thoughts listed above gives you some insight into reasoning behind such plays and that it helps your game this coming year. Here's wishing you a nice fat payday during 2005.

Editor's Note:

Former journalist and now commentator/poker professional Roy Brindley capped off 2004 as Europe's winning-most tournament player.

Sponsored by Ladbrokespoker.com, his new web-site www.roytheboy.net has recently had a 'soft launch'.

Meanwhile, last week, Roy eliminated Phil Ivey from the Commerce Casino PPT event when calling Ivey's all-in holding pocket 5's. "It could only be a big Ace or a tiny pair in my book and pot-odds dictated it was an automatic call," he said before making the call and he was right!

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