Cigar Aficionado

Education of a Poker Hack, Part Three

Cigar Aficionado sent Michael Kaplan to report a story about the hottest young online poker players. He came back with a great piece—which you can read in the August issue, on newsstands soon—and a desire to play the game well. Here, in three parts, is his experience.

Just to keep things in perspective, as I whined about my rapidly diminishing bankroll, Alan Sass battled for a seat at a World Series of Poker final table. He finished 13th in the $1,000 no-limit Hold'em event and took down nearly 30 grand. My losses, obviously, have been penny-ante, but in this case it's never been about the money. It's been about learning to play poker. And the way things have been going as of late, I am failing miserably.

I relate as much to Sass via telephone. I recount some of the recent debacles — such as calling an all-in raise with Jacks when there is an Ace on the flop. He generally responds with a moment of silence, then tells me, "Yeah, you really shouldn't have done that."

The question, of course, is what should I have done? And now, with some hours of play on the clock, my inquiries are more pointed and the advice from Sass becomes more useful. For one thing, he explains, I need to get better at reading boards and trying to estimate what the exposed cards can mean for other players. Being concerned about an Ace is obvious, and I have to go a lot deeper. "Think about how the flop hits your opponents' hands based on how they're playing," he says. "If somebody check/calls you, consider whether or not he is slow-playing and what he has. For instance, he wouldn't check twice and call two streets with a flush draw. But he might do it if he has already hit the nut flush."

In terms of when to be aggressive? Three-bet all pairs in the blinds (people fold often enough that it's profitable) and do the same for suited connectors out of position. Generally look for spots in which to three-bet — it's an intimidating play that can be done for value or as a bluff. More importantly, in light of my overly aggressive run, he advises that I take more care on the flop. "There are a lot of spots that are marginal," Sass tells me. "You get money in there and then compound your mistake on the turn."

His advice is simple: "If you get in a marginal situation on the flop, just fold your hand. Don't throw good money after bad." Sass stresses that medium pairs against boards that draw well to straights and flushes are tough to play — say, 8, 7 suited with Jack, 8, 6 on the flop. "Your decisions on the turn," he says, "are going to be too hard." So checking or folding would be in order.

Not only am I taking Sass's advice to heart, I am actually committing all of it to index cards. I fill a dozen or so with his strategic tips and pin them to a bulletin board. They help to keep me focused and on track with the right way to do things. I temper down the aggression, still do plenty of bluffing, let loose with continuation bets only about 70 percent of the time (as per Sass), try to find good spots against weak players (using information from Hold'em Manager to glean who falls into that highly desirable category), occasionally limp in pre-flop and sometimes make a minimum raise.

It more or less works. I slowly eke my way back into the black, return profits to the mighty three figures and keep looking for good opportunities while minimizing my downside exposure.

If you happen to spot me online, say hello — I play as stung2 on FullTilt — and don't be surprised when I triple-barrel you out of a pot.

Click here to read part two of this series.

Click here to read part one of this series.