Online Strategy Session: Poker Tells Expert Zach Elwood Says Watch for Key Timing Issues

Author Zach Elwood offers a look at some key timing issues that can help online poker players in that next big tournament oe cash game.

Editor’s note: Zach Elwood is the author of Reading Poker Tells and Exploiting Poker Tells. He also hosts the the Reading Poker Tells Video Series and People Who Read People podcast. This is the final part of a two-part series. For part one, click here.

The time it takes to act and other timing issues at the poker table can offer some real insight into a player’s hand strength. This tell can help players looking to win pots and pay beyond “ABC poker.”

Find some discussion and key hands below adding to the concepts outlined in the first part of this series. Many of these ideas can also be used in the online poker world as well.

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Brian Rast discusses timing issues and their importance at the poker table

Zach Elwood: Can you talk about some behavioral things you look for when you play?

Brian Rast: One big thing is timing. The amount of time a player takes in certain spots can be important. At the end of the hand, someone betting abnormally fast, whatever that means for the spot, I think for most players that’s more likely to be a bluff than a value bet.

This tell is probably more true for amateur players than pro players. With amateur players, for the most part, they’re unwilling to go into the tank and then bluff. Because of the idea that, if you start thinking too long, you’re not confident about your hand.

Zach: It feels uncomfortable to wait a long time and bluff, I think for anyone. It’s interesting because I think even when you think your opponents are likely to give you credit for a hand when you wait a long time and bet, because it’s a pretty widely known concept, it just feels uncomfortable.

Rast: Even me, I feel like I don’t wait too long to bluff. Although maybe it’s not the worst idea.

I play a lot of limit, and in limit, timing becomes very important. Timing can really influence what you think about what someone’s doing. So I think just in general, the tempo with which you play your hands is very important.

Some online poker strategy tips from GGPoker rep and Big Brother winner Kevin Martin.

Hand review: immediate bet from tight player

In a $2-5 No Limit Hold’em cash game, a very tight player makes it $20 pre-flop. I call with Q♠ J♠ on the button.

The flop is Q86. He bets $25 into $47. I call. The turn is the J♣. He bets $45 into $97. I call. The river is the 2. He quickly bets $100 into $187.

We discussed bet timing earlier, with a focus on how immediate bets skew towards bluffs. But in some situations, immediate bets make very strong hands clearly more likely.

This is one such case. When a tight player makes a significant bet immediately, it will almost always be with a very strong hand. The tighter they are, the more reliable this will be.

This is mainly because tight players, for the most part, are not capable of quickly reaching a decision to bluff. To put it another way: their quick-bluff range is almost non- existent.

If this player had an over-pair or a set, the flush draw completing would make him pause a moment. If he were going to bluff, he’d likely want to consider the situation a few moments before betting. This is especially true considering he is first to act. (An immediate bet would be less reliable if he were second to act.)

Based on what I knew of his play, I thought AQwas almost the only hand he could have, so I folded.

Poker pro Dara O’Kearney offers some ICM advice from his latest book Endgame Poker Strategy with poker author Barry Carter.

Quick bets when board texture changes

This hand is from the 2007 World Series of Poker $10,000 Main Event. The WSOP episodes are edited, so it’s hard to know for certain how closely the bet-timing in this hand matches what actually happened.

I’ve been told by a WSOP producer that they generally avoid making actions seem like snap-bets or snap-checks if there are long pauses present, so I tend to think the timing is fairly accurate. In any case, we’ll just assume it’s accurate for the sake of learning, as I think it’s a good example of how board texture can help with a read.

On a flop of 873, the pre-flop raiser, Winston, bets 150,000 into a pot of 232,000. His opponent, Kenny Tran, calls him with A8♠.

The turn is another heart: the 2. After just a few seconds, Winston announces “350,” betting 350,000 into the 532,000 pot. Tran calls again.

The river pairs the board: the 2. Winston, after a few seconds, announces “700,” betting 700,000 into 1.32 million.

As discussed earlier, quick bets often polarize a player’s range to strong and weak hands. On the turn, when Winston bets quickly, we can assume his range is probably the A(maybe the K) or a bluff.

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Further examination

If he had a heart weaker than the A, or if he had a hand weaker than a flush, he’d probably want to think a little bit about the situation. It’s very unlikely he’d bet a set or two pair so quickly on a four-flush board.

On the river, when the board pairs, his large, quick bet is also polarizing: it’s likely he’s either got a full-house or a bluff. And him having a full house contradicts his probable range after betting the turn.

If he did have the Aor the Kon the turn, it’s likely he’d want to think for a while before betting the river, as the board texture has changed so much and a full house is now possible.

For some quick and large bets, changes in the board texture can help you in picking out a bluff. When the board changes dramatically and a bettor doesn’t seem to be thoughtful about that change, it can be a clue that he’s bluffing.

In this hand, Tran thought about it quite a while and eventually called with his pair of 8s. Winston had A♠ T♣, for just Ace-high. Tran is an experienced live player, known for being good at reading people. It’s possible the speed of his opponent’s bets played a role in his decision.

For more information on Zach Elwood, click here.

Online Poker Strategy Session: Zach Elwood Offers Advice on Quick Actions at the Tables

Zach Elwood , author of Exploiting Poker Tells, analyzes quick actions at the tables, some of the most critical online poker tells.

Editor’s note: Zach Elwood is the author of Reading Poker Tells and Exploiting Poker Tells. He also hosts the the Reading Poker Tells Video Series and People Who Read People podcast. He offers PokerScout readers some strategy advice below.

While there may be less information available on competitors at the online poker tables, there are some tells that can give players some information on the strength of an opponent’s hand.

Quick action is one of the most critical online poker tells. Online, actions that take a long time aren’t going to be reliable: this is because we don’t know the reasons a player might be taking a long time.

They could be multi-tabling, or distracted, or whatever. For this reason, only quick actions are worth paying attention to.

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As with most poker tells, it’s important to have some sense of a player’sbaseline. For example, if a player is always betting immediately just due to being a very experienced player, their immediate actions won’t be meaningful.

And this means that, as is the case for poker tells in general, the most of the value you’ll get from these patterns is when playing more recreational players who are more likely to have timing imbalances. 

These are some excerpts from Exploiting Poker Tells that are relevant to online poker and have to do with quick calls and quick bets.

Quick call of four-bet defines range ($5-10 NLHE cash game)

I raise in middle position with K♣Kto $35. A fairly tight player behind me makes it $115. Stacks are $1,200. I make it $325 and my opponent calls within about four seconds.

This situation comes up fairly frequently: an opponent calling a three-bet or four-bet quickly. This might be a literal “snap call,” or it might just be an unusually fast call considering a player’s usual speed of action. In most of these cases, these quick calls will point to medium-strength hands: hands that, from that player’s perspective, are obviously too strong to fold, while also obviously too weak to raise.

For most recreational players, quick calls of pre-flop three-bets and four-bets will make JJ and QQ likely. JJ is significantly more likely than QQ, but QQ becomes more likely the tighter the player is. 

Some inexperienced players may also call quickly with AK, whereas better players will usually spend a little time thinking about the situation before reaching a decision. How well you’re able to pinpoint a player’s range will depend on your knowledge of their playing style.

In this case, because I had a few dozen hours playing with this player, I was very confident he had QQ. I knew he was tight enough that he would probably at least consider folding JJ and AK. I knew if he had AA or KK he would consider raising. So there wasn’t much left except QQ.

Knowing that AA, KK, and AK are unlikely is obviously great information to have post-flop. It can influence you to bluff on Ace-high boards, and it can encourage you to slow play if you think that you’re ahead but your opponent will fold to a bet.

Snap-call of a three-bet ($5-10 NLHE cash game)

A very tight player makes it $35 in the hijack. And “very tight” is an understatement: this guy is probably one of the tightest players in the world. It’s basically impossible to get value out of him, so my only approach when in hands with him is to try to get him off hands whenever I see a promising spot to do so. He has about $700 to start this hand and I cover.

When this player raises pre-flop, it’s a very tight range. He often doesn’t raise first in with AK, but he will in late position. I’ve noticed that when he raises late with hands like AK or AQ or low pairs, he makes his raises larger than he would if he had big pairs. If he had KK or AA, he’d probably make it $30 here, so his $35 raise makes KK and AA less likely.

A player behind him calls; this player is fairly tight and mostly straightforward. I’m in the big blind with K8. I make it $135.

Deducing Queens

I know that if the first raiser has AA or KK, he will be waiting a while and then either shoving or near-shoving. If he has AK or pairs JJ or lower, he’ll most likely be folding. The only hands he’ll just call with, I think, are QQ, and maybe JJ and AK suited.

He calls my raise after only about three seconds. This quick call – quick when taking into account his usual behavior – restricts this player almost exclusively to QQ. If he had paused a bit before putting in the call, it becomes more possible he might have JJ or AK suited, but the immediate call is very range defining for a player this tight.

The other player calls also.

The flop is K♣Q7. I check and the tight player bets $300 into $420. The other player folds and I fold.

The bettor shows QQ♣, for a set.

Even if I had a strong hand here on this flop, including AA or a set of 7s, I would have folded to any bet from him. That’s how confident I was that his behavior combined with his playing style narrowed his range to only QQ.

Quick bet polarizes & weakens range (2013 PokerStars EPT €10,000 NLHE tournament)

Jason Lavallee min-raises to 60,000 from middle position and Carla Sabini calls on the button. The big blind also calls.

The flop is 983♠ and Lavallee continuation bets for 78,000. Sabini calls. The turn is the 3. Lavallee checks and Sabini quickly bets 100,000. Lavallee calls.

The river is the K♠. Lavallee checks and Sabini again quickly bets 160,000 , around a third of the pot. He makes the call with Q♣J♣, beating Sabini’s QT.

Lavallee talked afterward in a PokerNews interview with Kristy Arnett about how his opponent’s bet-timing was a factor in his call:

Player comments on big call

“I ended up checking [the turn] and she made a pretty small bet but really fast. Which against non-experienced players, usually, one of their biggest leaks is not value-betting light enough and just in general playing too polarized, where they’ll bet their really big hands or their absolute air, but they won’t really know what to do with the middle part of their range. Like if she shows up on the turn with like 87 suited, which is middle pair, I wouldn’t expect her to bet really quickly; she would consider what to do with that hand.

“And usually in tournaments, they’ll opt even more for pot-control lines, which means not betting and being put to a tough decision, and instead try to steer the hand toward showdown. So when she bet really quickly it was an interesting decision because, I didn’t think she had total air, but I wasn’t sure what she would end up doing with like a 9, an 8, or like pocket 6s type of hand, and I didn’t think that she would bet it that quickly.

“I thought about raising, but I didn’t see what raising would accomplish, because the stuff that I actually end up beating, stuff like 6-7 suited, J10, and Q10, I already beat with my specific hand. So I decided to call instead, which is very non-conventional; it’s one of those things that you, in the moment, you feel or you don’t. There’s something to be said about instinctual play; it’s definitely not a standard line that I take all the time.

“And the river brought an off-suit King. And I checked and she bet really fast again.”

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Analyzing the hand

Lavallee explains in a clear way how quick bets can polarize a player’s hand range. This is probably the most important and reliable aspect of quick bets: they make medium-strength hands unlikely because most players need to consider what to do with medium-strength hands.

Whereas with clearly strong and clearly bluff-worthy hands there is less thought required.

Besides this basic reason, we also have the fact that bluffers often wish to appear confident, which leads to them betting quickly. Conversely, players with very strong hands can have a motivation to appear uncertain, which can lead to them physically or verbally “hemming and hawing” (to quote Phil Hellmuth) before betting.

For these reasons, quick bets will make it a bit more likely than usual that a bet is a bluff. But this is not a big factor; you should always remember that overall, most significant bets are value-bets and not bluffs.

I wanted to include Lavallee’s exact words because it’s not often that experienced high-stakes players talk about how opponent behavior can influence their decisions. Many serious players don’t like to talk about such things because they feel it reduces their edge – and they’re probably right

For more information on Zach Elwood, click here.

Pulling Back the Curtain: Getting an Inside Look at GGPoker’s New ‘Ask Fedor’ AI Training Feature

GGPoker recently launched the new “Ask Fedor” strategy feature and the company and Fedor Holz offered PokerScout some insight on the project.

Players feeling stuck in certain situations now have a chance for some advice from a poker savant at GGPoker. Perhaps there are some cash game spots that seem confusing? Maybe your short stack tournament game needs some work?

GG recently launched the new “Ask Fedor” feature to offer players a look at how to tweak their strategy in situations like these. The new offering features artificial intelligence (AI) with insight from poker pro and site ambassador Fedor Holz.

The company and Holz recently offered PokerScout some insight on how the new training tool came about and what went into adding it to the platform.

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How GGPoker’s ‘Ask Fedor’ feature works 

Online poker players in need of some fine tuning can now get insight from one of the best players in the game. The company describes the tool as an innovative deep-learning system, designed around the powerful Prometheus AI system.

Players using the tool receive feedback on their play with a rating from one to five. The advice also includes a recommendation on better choices the player could have made during the hand.

The goal is to then see improvement over a long period of time after getting some recommendations.

All GG players are given five free “Asks” to use when they log in to the site. There are also a  few subscription plans players can use as well to gain even more help.

A look at the “Ask Fedor” feature and how an analysis gets started.

Adding to the poker training environment

Bringing in players and allowing them the opportunity to reduce the learning curve has become key for online poker operators.

GG sees “Ask Fedor” as a way for players to add to their knowledge base and help close the gap with other more experienced players.

“We all know there are solvers out there and many professional and semi-professional players, the so-called ‘regs’, make use of them to analyze their play and improve,” GG spokesman Paul Burke says.

“We thought it would be great if we can use this technology to coach all GGPoker players and lessen the skill gap between recreational players – ‘recs’ – and regs. Providing easy access to powerful feedback facilitates greater learning opportunities for all GGPoker recs.”

Fine tuning the product

The GG team has spent the last year working on the project, perfecting the tool and smoothing out bugs. Handling scalability was one of the major technical challenges the team faced.

“We needed an AI solution that could handle the large number of players at GGPoker, and we needed that AI to revert with analysis and suggestions as quickly as possible,” Burke says. “We are working on improvements to make this turnaround even faster, as many GGPoker players have embraced Ask Fedor already and usage is going up.”

Company officials are pleased with the results so far, but say there are still ways to improve the platform. GG wants to provide feedback for more game types beyond Texas Hold’em. The goal is also to expand Ask Fedor into an even more powerful learning platform.

“GGPoker always works to make the game fun and fair for all, and Ask Fedor furthers our work in leveling the playing field that was begun by our introduction of PokerCraft and offering many what was previously only available to a select few,” Burke says. “Having a fully integrated and friendly user experience within the GGPoker platform helps with accessibility and adoption as well.”

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Holz plays major role in the project

Ask Fedor analyzing a hand.

Many poker fans already know Fedor Holz. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has $32.7 million in live tournament winnings. Holz tells PokerScout that he was heavily involved in designing the Ask Fedor feature.

“I’m part of the Prometheus team that developed and supplies the AI that powers the Ask Fedor feature,” he says. “We worked closely together with GGPoker to create the best possible integration and user experience.

“I gave feedback within the development process of the AI that powers Ask Fedor, so you can say that my spirit is built into it.”

One of the key bullet points for the tool, Holz notes, is simply the depth of advice and knowledge players can gain. He believes Ask Fedor can be a critical piece of technology for players looking to add to their toolbox of skills.

“Ask Fedor is an incredibly valuable tool that will provide a very high-quality answer if you are unsure about how you played a hand,” he says. “This allows for better play in the future of course.

“Having this capacity at your fingertips is something professional players pay tens of thousands of dollars for, and we made an even more powerful and responsive solution available for much less. Ultimately, we want players of all levels to be able to level up their game.”

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Some Help From Holz: GGPoker Launches New ‘Ask Fedor’ Strategy Feature to Help Online Players

GGPoker recently launched the new “Ask Fedor” strategy feature and the company and Fedor Holz offered PokerScout some insight on the project.

Online poker operators continue working to bring in newer players to their platforms. Education and poker training remains a major part of those efforts.

GGPoker recently launched another of its own efforts at helping players improve through the “Ask Fedor” poker hand analysis feature. The training option was built into the poker room’s hand history system.

Created in consultation with poker star Fedor Holz, the innovative deep-learning system is designed around the powerful Prometheus artificial intelligence (AI) tool.

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The system reviews a hand history and provides feedback on how a player played his cards.

“The perfect poker player doesn’t exist, and every one of us is curious about the best way to play a hand,” Holz, a GGPoker ambassador, said in a news release.

“This is why we’ve created ‘Ask Fedor’ – your hand is analyzed in real time and the advice provided will help bring your game to the next level. It helps bridge the gap between casual players and the professionals, and is only available at GGPoker.”

Strategy advice from a GGPoker pro

Adding education tools for players remains a trend in online poker. The thinking is that the better a player can get quickly, the more fun that player will have.

Winning at least to some degree with a higher level of skill keeps players at the tables. Some advice from Holz may be well worth seeking out.

The two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner has $32.7 million in live tournament winnings. He’s also Germany’s most successful poker player.

Prometheus is a leading AI bot training and education technology. With the Ask Fedor feature, players get their own virtual training session with Holz. The service offers feedback that comes with a rating between one and five.

The rating includes a recommendation on better choices that were possible during the hand. These suggestions hopefully lead to improved results over the long term.

GGPoker’s latest training feature allows players some help from poker superstar Fedor Holz. (photo courtesy PokerGO)

More details on asking Fedor for some help

Players making use of Ask Fedor will currently find advice for Texas Hold’em cash game and tournament hands. GG may also add other game variants in the future.

All GG players start with five free “Asks” to use whenever they log in. To access more Asks, players can choose among a number of Ask Fedor membership packages:

  • Basic membership – 30 Asks per month (VIP games not included), $29.99 per month
  • Standard membership – 120 Asks per month (VIP games not included), $99.99 per month
  • Premium membership – unlimited Asks, VIP games included, $199.99 per month

VIP games are cash games with stakes at $25/$50 or higher or tournaments with buy-ins of $5,000 or higher.

Each player automatically receives a 50% discount on their first month’s subscription.

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Online Strategy Session: Faraz Jaka Offers Tips on Three-Betting, Becoming a Winning Player

Poker pro and former WPT poker player offers some quick tips on taking your game to the next level and becoming a winning player.

Editor’s note: Poker pro Faraz Jaka’s new coaching site JakaCoaching.com, offers players plenty of training to improve their skills at the tables. He offers help for both live and online poker players, and offers a few tips for PokerScout readers below. 

When playing poker, it turns out that it’s not that hard to turn a profit, if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work.

The majority of players you’ll face are in the game recreationally and sparingly, which means that with just a few tweaks in your routine, you can get way ahead of the curve.

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1 – Online poker play your way to success

After consuming new learning content, playing online poker is hands down the fastest way to improve your game. That’s simply because of the number of hands you get to see in such a short period.

If you learn a new strategy, that scenario might only come up a handful of times in a matter of months playing live poker. But online you may be put in that same spot several times in a matter of a single session.

Be sure you are tagging the tough hands you encounter to review later when you are under less pressure. You can do this by using a poker tracking software, or simply by taking screenshots of the scenario.

2 – Master the big concepts

With the endless amount of training content out there, it can be hard to know where to start. You want to prioritize the scenarios that come up the most often and also for the most amount of money.

Here is the order I recommend to my students from my group coaching program , where we focus on tournament strategy.

Constructing three-bet ranges without having to memorize charts

Two common mistakes I see on this concept from players are not:

  • having enough three-bet bluffs.
  • three-betting enough with hands that don’t play well multiway.
  • adjusting your three-bet range based on stack size

For finding good candidates to three-bet bluff, there are two rules of thumbs I like to use. The first is to choose hands that are on the border of your calling range that also have good blocker qualities like an Ace-King or Queen in it.

If you kind of want to call a raise with a hand but it feels a little borderline, and it has decent blockers, then it’s probably a good three-bet bluff candidate.  The second rule of thumb is to pick hands that when you three-bet bluff with it, you are getting several better hands that dominate your hand to fold.

For example if your opponent will fold Q-J offsuit, K-J offsuit, and Q-10 offsuit, then Q-9 suited is a great three-bet bluff candidate. On the contrary, Q-J suited is probably not a good bluff candidate because your opponent isn’t folding K-Q or A-Q and you want to keep all those hands that you dominate in the pot.

For three-betting hands that don’t play well multiway, this mostly comes into play when you’re in middle or early position, facing a raise, and there are a lot of people behind you who may call behind. You might want to take your offsuit hands, like A-Q and A-J, and three-bet them just to kick everyone behind out.

Whereas hands like A-Q suited and A-J suited you can flat because they play well multiway. The same goes with hands like pocket Tens and Jacks you can mix in as calls or three-bets from those positions for the same reason. The exact strategy varies based on stack size, but this logic will help guide your decision making with those hands

The hands you are going to three-bet should vary based on stack size. When you are very deep stacked, you don’t have the risk of the player shoving all in. You can comfortably three-bet all your suited connectors and suited Broadways comfortably, knowing that you’ll almost always get to see the flop and not get blown off such a nice hand.

Whereas when you are shallow stacked like 30 big blinds deep, you have the risk of your opponent four-betting all in and forcing you to fold. For this reason, at shallower stacks we need to pick a more polarized strategy, meaning three-betting worse hands that we don’t mind wasting, in case we get blown off them.

We will also be choosing hands that are much more blocker heavy to three-bet with when we are shallow stacked, and not suited connectors like we might at deeper stacks.

Other key concepts

Beyond this concept, there are five other major areas I focus on as well when coaching players. Nailing down these key five areas will have you not only up to date, but ahead of the curve in 2022. That goes for just about every part of the decision tree you’ll face in poker tournaments.

3 –  Discuss and dissect

Lastly, being part of a community to discuss hands with others and learn about best practices is probably the single most valuable thing that has helped me get to where I am in my poker career today.

You can easily be doing something wrong, using outdated resources, or missing out on the best games to play for years.

But by having a knowledge source from a group of players you’ll know about these best practices well ahead of others.

To help my students benefit from this, I’ve created my own Discord group that is open to the public. There are also some extra private channels for members of my training site. Join the discord group and be sure to introduce yourself!

Faraz Jaka is the Season VIII World Poker Tour player of the year and has more than $10 million in tournament winnings. He hosts weekly two-hour training sessions focused on tournament poker strategy at Jakacoaching.com. Players can become a member for $99 per month. All sessions are recorded and members also get access to a library of 60-plus previous training lessons on various topics.

Faraz is also hosting an eight-week World Series of Poker prep series, helping players get up to speed and ahead of the curve before that 2022 trip to Las Vegas. Each week features a two-hour live and interactive lesson. There will be quizzes on the spot and Faraz will help fine tune your logic in how to think through hands. All sessions will be recorded and added to the library of 50+ previous lessons.

Match Poker Online App Launches, Offering Players Unique Skill-Building Environment

The inaugural Match Poker Online World Cup recently concluded with top-tier players from around the world competing.

Poker players now have a new app to check out from anywhere in the world to work on their skills and compare against others. The Match Poker Online app officially launched on Feb. 14 and allows players to sharpen their skills for free. 

The app is much different than a traditional free-to-play poker app. Match Poker turns the game into a sporting competition without having to wager your own bankroll. At the same time players can test their strategy and abilities against players worldwide. 

“It’s not poker as you’ve ever played it before – it’s a Battle Royale where you compete against opponents playing the same hand as you to survive elimination,” Match Poker Online head of customer relations Jake Colman said in a news release.

“This makes it a pure test of skill – a sport – an official mind sport. And, for the first time in the history of poker, you can obtain an official world ranking. No other poker experience gives you this.”

What is Match Poker?

The initial launch features a “Battle Royale” game. All players jump in a poker situation that includes 36 contestants.

Each seat is dealt the same hand across tables. Whoever scores best in each situation moves on and is awarded points. 

This allows luck to be phased out and the app focuses on player results in each situation. The app shows a player how to play that hand with the best possible outcomes. 

“Match Poker shows you how better players played exactly the same cards, offering a unique learning experience,” Colman says. “Plus, the app collects stats on your play and uses them to tell you if you are playing too aggressively, too passively, too loose, or too tight.”

The app contains statistics, graphs, and some fun gameplay. Players learn from seeing how their own play measures up to others who have played the same hand in the exact same seat.

Future Olympic event? 

Once the app takes off, developers plan to launch a “Seasons” feature. This will allow players to be nationally ranked and climb leaderboards. 

Match Poker plans to hold national events at every ranking level. According to the company, the goal is to get this style of play into an Olympic eSport.

While that remains a way off, Match Poker Online officials hope the app grows and brings something new to the game. Players can gain insight into their own game and carry some of those skills learned over to live or other online poker tables.

Other upcoming plans include:

  •  Players can access the Match Poker database to evaluate results of thousands of different hands
  • A “Famous Hands” feature that allows players to jump into some big poker moments. Users are thrown in a monumental hand from poker’s past to see how they would have played the hand themselves.
  • A fantasy-style game mode, where players can form mini-leagues to see how they’re skills stack up against friends.

After years of development, players can now test their skills by using real-time updated data. Match Poker Online is now available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

Skill Building: PokerStars Teams Up With Raise Your Edge Training Site; SCOOP Dates Announced

PokerStars announced a new partnership with the Raise Your Edge training site on Thursday, revamping its poker education efforts.

PokerStars announced a new partnership with the Raise Your Edge training site on Thursday. The news comes after the company added German poker pro and Raise Your Edge founder Benjamin “Bencb” Rolle as a poker ambassadors last year.

The signing aligned with changes and additions to the company’s poker training program. That included the transition of the former PokerStars School to the PokerStars Learn program.

“I am excited to utilize both of our brands to build the game of poker,” Rolle said in a news release. “Wherever you are in the poker journey, I believe we have created something that can provide value to all players and look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.

”And for those who have decided to learn more of the game’s concepts, they are going to benefit greatly from this partnership.”

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Transitioning poker training at PokerStars

As part of the agreement, PokerStars and Raise Your Edge combine to provide current and new players with exclusive content. Players will find live training and courses to improve their poker skills and strategy.

Raise Your Edge will “support the community in improving their game,” Stars notes. The companies will produce weekly videos with topics ranging from mindset to basic strategies for all PokerStars games. New free courses will also focus on:

  • Multi-table tournaments
  • Cash games
  • Sit & Go’s
  • Live poker

Raise Your Edge was founded in 2016 and has assisted more than 100,000 players around the world. The companies will utilize the PokerStars Discord, allowing students to ask strategy-related questions directly.

Rolle has a deep history of online poker success. He won the SCOOP (Spring Championship of Online Poker) main event in 2014 for $250,000.

In 2016, Rolle took down a WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) Super High Roller title for $1.2 million. From 2013-15 he was among the top 10  players at the Sit & Go tables, according to SharkScope. He took the top spot in those rankings in 2015.

Along with serving as a coach and ambassador, streaming on his Twitch channel is also part of his role with Stars. He also regularly offers poker advice on Twitter as well.

A growing trend in strategy and coaching from online poker sites

Bringing more players into the game is obviously a major goal for online poker operators. Keeping those players winning at least to some degree also gives operators the chance to keep these new customers.

Poker training and education has become a bigger part of that equation for poker sites in recent years. Those players who find some success, rather than losing continually, remain happier and have more fun at the tables.

Stars also recently introduced the Level Up With Lex training feature. These videos make use of artificial intelligence with PokerStars ambassador Lex Veldhuis offering players strategy advice as a virtual coach.

Level Up is geared toward Sit & Go play for now. The concept naturally gears tips based on a player’s own style of play. 

Most major operators also offer some form of training to varying degrees. Partypoker offers the MyGame Whiz, a training tool offering advice and reporting a player’s strengths and weaknesses. GGPoker offers its own Online Poker School for players of all levels.

PokerStars Learn is now hoping to grow its training options with Raise Your Edge. Beginning on Wednesday, players at the company’s international, United Kingdom, Brazilian, German, Russian, Spanish (Latin American), and Italian sites will find three new training videos.

Several courses are available for players of all levels and learners can learn at their own pace.

PokerStars announces SCOOP dates

In other PokerStars news, the site also announced the dates for this year’s SCOOP.  The series has become one of the biggest online poker festivals in the world.

This year’s festivities are set to begin on May 8 and run through June 1. The 2021 SCOOP featured  more than 1.7 million entries across 102 low, medium, and high buy-in events.

SCOOP paid out almost $140 million to players last year, easily topping the $100 million. That total helped the series top $1 billion in payouts since its inception.

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ONLINE POKER STRATEGY SESSION: Playing the Blinds With Poker Pro & Author Evan Jarvis

Poker pro and coach Evan Jarvis offers some tips on playing the blinds from his new book "Mastering Small Stakes Ca$h Games."

Playing the blinds is a critical part of poker and Evan Jarvis offers some tips on that aspect of the game from his new book Mastering Small Stakes Ca$h Games.

Jarvis has more than 10 years of experience playing poker, cash games and tournaments both live and online. He’s worked closely with some of the biggest names in the game such as Greg Merson, Griffin Benger, Charlie Carrel, and Ali Imsirovic.

His career has ranged from playing micro stakes to high stakes, and he has more than $1 million in live and online winnings. This chapter from the book focuses on maximizing play from the blinds.

Blind considerations

In the vast majority of No Limit Hold’em cash games, you’ll be required to post a blind twice during every orbit. On one of those occasions, you’ll be posting the big blind and sitting two seats to the left of the dealer. The hand after that, you’ll be posting the small blind, with the dealer on your immediate right. 

Almost all the considerations we’ve talked about elsewhere in this book apply when you’re in the blinds. But it’s worth taking a particular look at preflop play from these seats as there are a few additional considerations.

Most notably, when you’re in the blinds you make your decisions last preflop, but first post-flop. It means you get the most information from your opponents in the preflop betting round, but the least for every round after that. We’ll look at how this can affect your decision-making process.

Playing the blinds will also often give you your first introduction to odds in poker and understanding odds is what leads to long-term profit in the game. It follows that understanding how to play the blinds is critical to your poker success. 

But I also want to stress that making preflop decisions from the blinds based solely on equity calculations can be a mistake.

You are usually better off remembering the significant positional disadvantage you will be in post-flop, as well as the fact that there is much, much more betting to be done after the flop than there is preflop.

It should help you to think twice about getting involved preflop with junky hands, just because the pot odds are so good.

The equity myth 

Normally – i.e., if you’re not in the blinds – when you’re faced with an open raise of three times the big blind (3x), you are getting odds of 3:4.5 on a call.

This means that the reward for calling and winning the hand is 4.5 units total, comprising 3 (their raise) + 1 big blind + 0.5 small blind.

Your risk is 3 units, i.e., you’re putting in 3 to play for another 4.5 or, in other words, a total pot of 7.5. The odds are 3:4.5

With odds like these, if all other factors were equal, we could expect to win the pot at least 40% of the time and turn a profit. You’d be breaking even on your initial investment because 3 divided by 7.5 is 0.4 or 40%. 

That means if you manage to win the pot more than 40% of the time, you turn a profit on your investment. If you anticipate winning less than 40%, then you’re losing money on your call every investment.

However, it’s worth noting that preflop betting represents only one section of a full poker hand. We also have betting on flop, turn, and river.

So if you can find a positive expectation on the higher stakes post-flop play, you can get away with playing hands that have slightly less than break-even equity preflop.

Equity versus win frequency

Let’s revisit a subject from the last chapter: the part where we looked at a player in the big blind’s win frequency against an open raise.

Consider when you’re in the big blind. It will demonstrate why it’s the wrong approach to look only at the price you’re getting when playing from the blinds. 

When you’re facing a 3x raise, the odds are:

  • Reward: 3 (their raise) + 1 big blind + 0.5 small blind = 4.5
  • Risk: 2 (you’ve already posted 1 and it’s 2 more to see the flop)
  • Odds: 2:4.5
  • Win frequency needed: 2/6.5 (2 + 4.5) = 30.77% 

Note: we use “win frequency” instead of “equity” as we don’t expect betting to be done for the hand, so equity isn’t the right term.

Our win frequency needed is roughly 31%. That’s a pretty low number, right – especially when you remember that any two live cards have equity of around 33% against A-K. 

What about when you’re facing a min-raise – i.e., 2x?

  • Reward: 2 (their raise) + 1BB + 0.5 BB = 3.5
  • Risk: 1
  • Odds: 1:3.5
  • Win frequency needed: 1/4.5 = 22.22%

In this situation, even 3-2(suited) seems playable. That hand has almost 20% equity against A-A! It seems that when you’re facing small raise sizes while in the big blind, you don’t need to win often to justify continuing with the hand. It seems that the “price is right.”

The post-flop situation

However – and this is important – for this to be true you still need to be breaking even on all bets post-flop. And even if you are a very skilled post-flop player, you are at a significant positional disadvantage on every subsequent betting round.

If, overall, you’re making money from your opponents by playing better post-flop, then when they min-raise, you should defend your blind with the entire deck.

But if you’re playing against a very strong opponent and you have great preflop odds, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the same range as you think they are opening, or even a tighter range of hands.

This way, you have an equity advantage based on your cards, and you won’t be getting yourself into tricky post-flop situations.

Hand selection and equity

In my experience, the most important thing to focus on when in the blinds is playing the right types of hands. Outplaying your opponent from out of position is challenging against solid players.

The types of hands you want to play are:

  • Hands that are ahead of your opponent’s opening range.
  • Suited Aces and suited face cards, which will cooler a wide opening range of all suited hands.
  • Small connectors as they’re unlikely to be dominated when making two pair and can make hidden straights.

Hands to avoid: middling off-suit hands. They usually only make middle or top pair, marginal kicker. Likewise, if a hand makes two pair, it’s often dominated by a better two pair or trips.

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Posting a big blind doesn’t mean you have to defend it

Just because you posted the big blind doesn’t mean you have to defend it. Posting the blinds is just part of the game. Everyone does it, and once the money is in the pot it no longer belongs to you.

I repeat, once the money crosses the betting line, it belongs to the pot (aka nobody) and does not belong to you unless you win the pot. 

There is no need to “defend” money that isn’t yours. Doing so will only invite trouble. There should be no emotional component.

Otherwise, you’re just doing what the long-term losing gamblers do: chasing losses and throwing good money after bad to get even.

Since you’re reading this book, you’re not a losing gambler; you’re a profitable investor who knows when the price is right or when the odds are in your favor. And when the odds are against you, you do the smart thing and FOLD.

Mastering Small Stakes Ca$h Games by Evan Jarvis is published by D+B and available for $34.95.

Video Vibes: Lex Veldhuis Talks About His Role in PokerStars’ New ‘Level Up With Lex’ Feature

Lex Veldhuis spoke with PokerScout about his role with PokerStars new "Level Up With Lex" training tool and the feedback so far.

PokerStars launched the “Level Up With Lex” training option in early December. The feature gives players personalized strategy advice from site ambassador Lex Veldhuis using artificial intelligence and personalized videos.

Level Up WIth Lex offers a high-tech approach to honing a player’s skills. Veldhuis’s tips focus on improvement and education based on that player’s actual playing style. 

After two months, players from around the world have had a chance to check out the feature. Veldhuis recently spoke with PokeScout about Level Up and his role in developing the strategy tool.

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A unique PokerStars training development

Level Up With Lex offers PokerStars players their own virtual coach. The technology reads and analyzes hand histories to detect mistakes as players play at the online tables.

Veldhuis believes the feature doesn’t just offer players a chance to improve, but is also an entertaining way for players to work on their skills.

“I think what really sets Level Up With Lex apart is that it’s a player-supporting tool that makes the community’s experiences in poker more pleasurable and fun,” he says, “while giving them highly personalized advice that’s easy to take on board, using innovative technology.”

The option can also be especially helpful to new players and shorten the time needed to see tangible results.

“I think that when you start playing poker it can be very daunting,” he says. “What hands do you play? What’s the strategy for a good starting hand – especially in real money games? I think the learning curve can be quite imposing.”

Veldhuis also likes the personalized aspect – giving players a coach in their corner.

“I think something that can help you not feel alone is getting the video from Level Up With Lex that points out some mistakes,” he says. “It also triggers a little bit of thinking about the depth of the strategy and really shows the depth of the game.”

Lending his voice

As one of the most popular Twitch poker streamers, educating other players is a big part of Veldhuis’s platform. PokerStars thought those aspects made the Dutch poker pro a good fit.

He also likes new players being able to watch one of his Level Up strategy videos and then heading to his Twitch stream to ask for even more advice.

“I think it’s a really cool first step to show them that they can find more information elsewhere, be helped and taught, and that they can share their interest in poker with like-minded people,” he says.

The actual video and voice production was a lengthy process. Beyond recording, he also made suggestions on voice lines and helped work on the wording in certain contexts.

“But all the learning content was done by the wonderful team that has a lot of experience working with the tool, knowing what works best and giving the right information for players,” Veldhuis says.

“I did about 20 hours of voice recording, which was quite funny. I must admit, it felt a little bit awkward at first – being on a Zoom call with four other people and having to say the line three or four times with different types of emotions. It was a fun process.”

The Level Up With Lex host battling it out at the live poker tables. The new toolk has received positive feedback so far. (photos courtesy PokerStars)

A helping hand

Educating other players has always been a part of Veldhuis’s platform. That motivation may come from his own days as a beginner in the game.

Early in his career while playing $1/$2 tables, Veldhuis wrote to a few poker pros asking for some advice. Some actually responded and Veldhuis found that extremely motivational and appreciated their efforts. The Level Up With Lex feature now allows him to extend some of his own efforts to help other players as well. The response may even serve as a springboard for even more strategy content from Veldhuis.

“It was an ‘all in this together’ kind of feeling and I think that’s really powerful,” he says. “I already have that through Twitch because I give people a lot of advice, which I enjoy, but Level Up With Lex is in a more traditional educational way.

“It’s not as reactive as when I’m streaming live, I’m speaking and interacting with the audience. Level Up With Lex is actually something that people use without me knowing and the most surprising thing is that it’s really triggered some sort of creativity for me and a sense of new things I would like to try.

Feedback and leveling up

There’s no shortage of strategy content available to players. However, Level Up brings something new to an online poker platform. Players get a video review of their play right in the software client.

So far, Veldhuis has been pleased with some of the feedback he’s received on the feature. For example, a friend playing Spin & Go’s and watched the video advice.

The player found the option a non-intrusive way of receiving feedback and a nice way to examine his playing habits.

“He said what it showed in the video was that what he was doing was actually a big mistake and he felt the challenge to play better next time,” Veldhuis says. “So that was pretty much the best feedback I could have gotten, so I was glad to hear that, and online in the Twitch chat I’ve had community members who have had experience with it and really liked it too.”

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Appealing to new players

Level Up is currently available for players at PokerStars Sit & Go tables. The company continues taking in feedback from players. For now, the tool is meant for beginners looking to improve their experience.

As more operators look to bring in new players and appeal to recreational players, Level Up With Lex offers a unique part of those efforts. The tool is meant to make players’ first poker experiences more pleasurable, safe, and fun.

Those who see improvements have a better chance of cashing in tournaments. That offers operators a chance to keep more players in the game and having fun.

“Generally, the thing I hear is that it’s a playful way to try and get better and I really think that poker should be like that,” Veldhuis says. “I think if you keep it as easy access for people and give them tips and point out bigger mistakes in a playful way, I think that goes a long way. So I’m really glad it’s being received that way.”

Lex Veldhuis encourages players to visit his Twitch channel and offer their own feedback on Level Up With Lex. he notes: “I have a very welcoming, chilled community, so there’s always plenty of advice from them as well.”

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Online Skill Building: Dara O’Kearney’s ‘Endgame Poker Strategy’ – ICM in 30 Minutes

Poker pro Dara O’Kearney offers some ICM advice from his latest book Endgame Poker Strategy with poker author Barry Carter.

Poker pro Dara O’Kearney’s latest book with longtime poker author Barry Carter offers players a guide to success in the later stages of a tournament. Endgame Poker Strategy is the third book in the “Poker Solved” series.

In this excerpt from the book, players can gain some insight into understanding basic ICM (independent chip model) situations. As ICMPoker.com notes, “In poker ICM allows you to convert tournament players’ stacks in chips into their money equity (as percentage of total or remaining prize pool).”

Online poker players can certainly benefit from these strategies. O’Kearney offers plenty of insight.

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Considering ICM in later stages

To get the most out of this book we think you should use it as an addendum to further study away from the tables in the form of hand reviews, solver simulations, and coaching.

This is a book you should return to several times and make plenty of notes. Most of the lessons should help you right away but some of them will require additional effort. 

This will take time and you are not expected to read this book quickly, nor stop playing until it is finished. We appreciate that some of you might even have bought this book ahead of playing in a big tournament.

For that reason, we begin with some immediate fixes you can make to your game around ICM that should have an immediate benefit. In this book we want you to learn the why behind the ways ICM changes your game.

But until then if you are happy to trust in the following advice without further explanation, these changes should improve your win rate right away.

Losing hurts more than winning feels good

This is perhaps the philosophy of ICM that you should internalize right away. As you might have worked out in the previous chapter, because there is not a 1:1 ratio of chips to cash like there are in ChipEV cash games, you never win more than you risk in a tournament hand.

You might be calling a 500-chip bet to win a 1,000 chip pot, which is a healthy return on your chips. But you might be risking $50 in tournament equity to win an extra $30.

The immediate adjustment, therefore, is to play tighter in tournaments than you would in cash games. You need to play stronger hands than you would in a cash game because you need to win more often to justify the risk. 

In practice that means shaving the bottom of your range a little, especially when you are calling a bet. If your calling range in a cash game would be 44+, KJs+, ATo+, A9s+, maybe take a few pips off that range to make it 77+, KQs, AQo+, and AJs+

In particular you should dramatically tighten up your calling range near the bubble, with at a minimum something like 88+, AQs+, AJo+, but probably something even tighter.

You will not be making a massive mistake, until you have learned more about ICM, by only playing QQ+ and AKs on the literal bubble of a tournament.

You’ll learn what factors widen or tighten your calling range as we progress. But until then, keep it to hands you figure to be ahead most of the time. 

Small pairs lose their value

A specific note on hand selection and that is that small pocket pairs that you would be happy to set mines with in a cash game go dramatically down in value in tournaments as you get nearer the money.

Engame Poker Strategy co-authors Barry Carter and Dara O’Kearney.

It is not a bad idea to remove pairs below sixes entirely from your range when you are near the money and/or with shallow stacks.

This is in part because the hands you will get called by will tend to dominate them or at least be overcards. It is pretty much never a good thing to get in coin flips in the late stages of a tournament, even though they are an aspect of televised poker that is glamorized.

Also, small pairs realize equity poorly. There are so many flops where you will be forced to fold because small pairs are too weak to stand much ICM pressure.

If you have 55 and the flop is 9-T-K you cannot put any more money in the middle and are at best hoping to check it down.

Most of the time the stacks are shallower when ICM influences the action. So you usually won’t be getting the implied odds to play small pairs anyway. 

It feels weak at first to just open fold a pocket pair in a tournament but overvaluing the “best hand right now” is a particularly dangerous leak. There are times when small pairs play well, but until we discuss them, just throw them away. 

Blockers go up in value

On the flip side, you can make up for the small pair removal by adding more hands that block big hands. You will discover that suited Aces and suited broadway hands go up in value in the late stages of a tournament.

This is because when you have an Ace in your own hand it makes it less likely your opponent has one. Because you need a tighter calling range in tournaments, you are more likely to get folds when you have an Ace in your hand because the typical calling ranges are mostly made up of AA, AK, KK, QQ, JJ hands.

If you raise with 22 there are 16 potential combinations of AK and six combinations of AA out there, for example. But if you raise with A2s there are only 12 combinations of AK and three combinations of AA. You will run into a big Ax hand 30% less often in this example with A2s than you will with 22. 

The same is true to a lesser extent with suited broadway hands like K9s and QTs. Think of those hands as having 1/2 or 1/4 of a blocker.

They will play better in late position, if you raise them early you will almost certainly run into Ax. We like the Ax and Kx hands to be suited because it gives us outs when we do get called and we are otherwise dominated. If you get reraised and have plenty of chips behind, just throw the hand away.

When you do get dealt a hand like A5s and you raise with it, don’t tell yourself you are raising because you have a strong hand. Tell yourself you are raising because it is much less likely your opponents have a hand they can continue with. 

Who covers whom is important

The nearer you get to the money, the more significant your risk of elimination becomes in your decision making. You should always pay attention to who can bust you at your table, who is close to busting, and who is somewhere in the middle.

Consider playing a wider range of hands against a player you can bust, because they have to play tighter against you. You can play more aggressively against a player you cover and take them off more pots.

Fold equity becomes very important in the late stages of a tournament when the blinds are high, so maximize your chances of taking down pots uncontested. 

If you are the player who is covered, you should play more passively and take fewer risks. Pot control your hands, avoid thin value bets and be prepared to fold in hands you would probably call in a cash game. Your opponent should be playing more aggressively against you, so a more passive style should earn you more chips overall anyway.

The bigger your stack, the more aggressive you can be. If you only have 5% more chips than your opponent then they represent almost as big a threat to you as you do to them. When you have twice as many chips as them you can take liberties.

Likewise if you have a very short stack do not expect to intimidate many people. But if there is a player whom you can hurt because they are also short, they should be your target for aggression. 

Play tighter as the short stack

This goes against a lot of prevailing wisdom and instincts. Many people believe that when they have a short stack they have to gamble to avoid being blinded out. That is a fallacy.

The fewer chips you have the more each one is worth in terms of equity. 

The few chips you have are worth more to you than they are to the other players, so they need protecting. It may feel counterintuitive but the shorter your stack, the tighter you should play.

How tight is hard to say without further study. But for now just narrow your range as much as you can bear when you get short stacked. 

If you are going to pick a player to steal from while you are the short stack, target the next shortest player. They will not want to become the short stack and they are the player you can threaten the most.

While it is true that a big stack will call you with a wider range of hands you can beat, it is better to take the pots down uncontested wherever you can. 

A complete guide to online poker for April 24-26.

ICM most extreme on bubble & final table bubble

Most of you probably know that you should play much tighter on the bubble, it probably makes perfect sense. It’s the last time you can bust before securing a min-cash.

Even amateur players who have never heard the term ICM realize this and you will see them stalling near the bubble. You need a very strong hand to risk elimination on a tournament bubble. And you will discover in this book there are plenty of spots where Pocket Kings is a fold, and Ace-King suited should be an easy fold.

However, when you have a big stack, this means you can exploit how tight people should fold by being more aggressive. If you have a very big stack you should try and extend the bubble as long as possible to pick up lots of small pots from people hanging on until the money.

The flip side of having to play very tight as the short stack is that you can play very aggressively as the big stack and the bubble is where you can do that the most.

What fewer people know is that ICM is at its second most extreme on the bubble of the final table. This is because most of the money is on the final table and the pay jumps get bigger with each elimination. You should, therefore, play almost as tight just before the final table

Although there is the most money on the final table, while ICM plays a big role it does not play as big a role as you think once you get there.

ICM on the bubble

In fact ICM is less extreme with every elimination. ICM is less powerful with four players left than it is with six players left, because the players have secured more money they cannot lose.

What you tend to see on the final table is players playing very tight because they have their heart set on a particular pay jump. The money for third place might represent something significant for them in their real life, but from an ICM perspective they should not be playing like it’s a bubble. 

The quick adjustment before we go further is that with every elimination at the final table you can play looser than the previous pay jump.

Play tighter with flat payouts or micro/mega stack

The other thing that should significantly tighten your range is when the stack sizes or payouts make it more important to lock up second place than go for the win.

One example of this is when the payouts are flatter, ie. second, third, fourth, and so on get a much closer prize to first place than they typically would.

So a typical final table might pay out the final four players like this:

  • 1st: $2,200
  • 2nd: $1,000
  • 3rd: $800
  • 4th: $600

An example of a flat final table payout structure might be more like this:

  • 1st: $1,900
  • 2nd: $1,100
  • 3rd: $900
  • 4th: $700

The same dynamic occurs when there is a runaway chip leader who has, for example, more than half the chips in play, or paradoxically, a micro stack who is going to bust next. 

In all three situations, the advice is to play tighter than usual. We’ll get into the reasons throughout this book but when a micro stack is almost guaranteed to hand you a pay jump it would be a disaster to bust before them.

When the chip leader is almost guaranteed to win top prize, you should be looking at second place prize money rather than taking big risks to catch up to him in chips.

When the payouts are flatter, laddering becomes more profitable. Just take our word for it for now, you will make more money overall by tightening up in these dynamics. 

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Play smaller fields

You will learn the most about ICM by playing smaller field MTTs (multi-table tournaments), which we define as 50-200 players online. This is because you will find yourself on bubbles and at final tables more often.

The reason why SNG (sit and go) and MTTSNG grinders have a deeper understanding of ICM than players who specialize in huge field tournaments is more repetitive exposure to relevant spots.

We also think these tournaments are typically softer overall and much easier to handle from a mental game perspective. At an absolute minimum you should play more small field MTTs while you are learning the ropes about ICM. 

There is no ICM heads-up

When there are just two players remaining you have both secured second-place prize money. You are now just competing for the first-place prize difference.

This is the only time when you can play a 100% ChipEV style because there is only one prize being contested.

You will often see players overfold heads up because they have been doing it for the entire tournament. But now is the time to take small edges if you think you are ahead in ChipEV terms.