The Course by Ed Miller Is Out Today

The Course: Serious Hold 'em Strategy For Smart Players by Ed Miller

 

Today’s the day for my brand new book The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players. The early reviews are coming in, and I’m very happy that people are enjoying the book.

If you’ve read some of my other books, this book is different. It’s by far my most practical book to date, and it walks you step-by-step through all the skills you need to play professional-level no-limit hold ‘em. Read more about it here.

 

 

The Introduction and an Excerpt to The Course by Ed Miller

The Course: Serious Hold 'em Strategy For Smart Players by Ed Miller

My newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players, is now available in paperback and e-book formats. I have a sneak preview of a couple chapters from the book to give you some flavor for what’s within.

 

Introduction

 

When I was a kid, my dad watched a lot of golf. Every Thursday through Sunday, our television was tuned to that week’s PGA tournament. This was before the Internet, and we had only one TV, so many days I was a captive audience.

Through those thousands of hours of watching televised golf, I heard hundreds of players interviewed before tense Sunday matchups and after crushing losses. For the most part the words washed over me. If you’ve heard one cliché-filled athlete interview, you’ve heard almost all of them.

But one day, in one of these interviews, I heard something that stuck with me. I couldn’t tell you who said it, but the idea was powerful. You don’t play against the other players, the golfer said. You play against the course.

When you enter a golf tournament against a hundred other players, you can think about it one of two ways. You can think about it as “you against the field.” To win, you have to beat every one of your opponents. You’ve got to beat the one who drives a million miles, and you’ve got to beat the one who never misses a putt. You’ve got to beat the one who can get out of every jam, and you’ve got to beat the one who thrives under pressure no matter how intense.

That’s one way to think about it. The other way is to ignore all that. Those other players don’t matter. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. It’s not your concern. In some sense, a golf tournament involves only two players—you and the course. The course sets the rules. It creates the challenges. It puts up the obstacles. Your job is to analyze the problem, formulate a strategy, then execute.

That’s it. If you pick the right strategy, and your execution is crisp, the winning takes care of itself. The other players will beat themselves one way or the other. If you conquer the contours of the course, then you can ignore all the competition and claim your victory.

It’s a powerful idea. It separates the things you can’t control—the other players—from the things you can—your own strategy and execution. It’s also an idea that perhaps applies even better to poker.

In poker, it’s easy to get distracted by all the other players. This guy called twice and spiked a gutshot straight against you. That guy won’t stop calling every time you play a pot. The woman across the table made the nuts against you three times in a row.

It’s all noise. Ignore it. A hold ’em game is not you against nine opponents. It’s you against the course. Master the course, and you’ll see results.

If you don’t ignore it, you risk getting caught in a dangerous trap—trying to change your opponents. If someone keeps calling and drawing out on you, then the natural response is to try to get that guy to stop calling so much. Maybe you bet bigger. You figure that if you use a big enough gun, you’ll be able to blast the guy out of your pots.

This approach, however, is exactly the wrong one. The more you simply react to what your opponents are doing—and especially the more you try to change the way they play—the more you ensure that you’ll never win at this game.

Just play the course. In poker, the course isn’t your opponents, but it is created by your opponents. Your opponents, by the strategies they use to play the game, decide where the sand traps and water hazards go. They also decide where you’ll find the fairways and greens. The more flawed your opponents’ strategies, the wider the fairways, and the bigger and more forgiving the greens.

Your first job is to survey the course. Every time you sit down to play, you examine the action to determine where the hazards lie and where the plum landings spots are. Next, you devise a strategy to hit the good spots as often as possible. Finally, you execute.

If you do that consistently—survey, strategize, execute—your opponents won’t be able to keep up with you.

 

This is my ninth poker book. When I tell my non-poker-playing friends that I’ve written nine poker books, they ask, “Is there really that much to say about poker?”

The short answer is yes. No-limit hold ’em is a game with a depth and subtlety that equals chess. People have been playing chess for hundreds of years. They’ve written thousands of books on the game, and still haven’t mastered it. In contrast, while no-limit hold ’em has been around since early in the last century, its popularity exploded more recently, beginning with the 2003 World Series of Poker. Only since then has the poker community devoted significant resources to teasing out the game’s finer strategic points.

I co-wrote my first book about poker strategy in 2004. The collective strategic knowledge about hold ’em has been in a constant state of flux since then. With each new book I’ve written, I’ve learned more about the game.

This book is the product of how I’ve learned to teach poker for the past ten years. I won’t waste your time telling you that a flush beats a straight. I also won’t rehash basic strategy points you can find in a hundred different places. That’s what Google is for.

Instead, I’ve focused on presenting only high-value concepts. If I’ve done it right, this book will give you a series of “aha” moments, one after the other. These concepts are the most important, practical, and instantly applicable ideas that win money in real no-limit hold ’em games.

The book is broken down into a series of skills. Read the first skill, practice it, master it, and move onto the next. Once you have mastered the first three skills, you can expect to have sustained success in the lowest-level games offered in public card rooms.

After you get through the next four skills, you should have what it takes to win at the next level. And finally, if you master all the skills presented here, you should be able to play a professional-level game at some of the higher stakes.

Hold ’em isn’t a simple game. You shouldn’t expect success to come quickly and easily. But this complexity is precisely what makes it worth playing. If it’s not easy for you, rest assured it’s not easy for your opponents either. Most people who play the game regularly in public card rooms are, quite frankly, terrible players who make mistakes on nearly every hand. (They will also be happy to volunteer “advice” about how you should play more like them. Ignore them. Always, always ignore them!)

On top of this, the game’s short-term luck factor serves to obscure relative skill levels among players. If you play ten games of chess against someone who is much better than you, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose nine or all ten of those games. After an experience like that, no one could believe they were in fact the better player.

Yet, in poker, the better player won’t beat the worse player every time—not even close. The noise of hand-to-hand results often hides the edge the better player enjoys. Throw in a little old-fashioned self-delusion, and many people play for years and years thinking they are among the best players in the room, while actually being among the worst.

This book’s main goal is to cut through all that noise. I want you to understand clearly what it means to be good at poker. I want you to focus on the stuff that’s truly important. And I want you to tune out everything else.

I want you to expect a challenge. As I said above, poker excellence doesn’t come easily. As I’m sure you already know, it will take consistent hard work on your end. But I also want to help you succeed. And I want you to understand that your poker goals are attainable if you study the right concepts and put forth enough effort.

This may be a new idea for you to consider. But I encourage you to see poker as an exercise in self-improvement. Every day that you read, every day that you study, and every day that you play, you get a little better than you were the day before. This is how you should measure success—not by money won or lost, but by whether you continue to improve day after day.

Don’t worry about your opponents. They’ll win and they’ll lose. Along the way, they’ll naturally have a lot of things to say about the game, very little of it valid. What happens with, and to, your opponents is both irrelevant and beyond your control.

In the end, it’s just you and the course. Learn to read the course. Learn to beat the course. And every day strive to score better that day than you did the last. Do that, and the winning will take care of itself.

 

Static Versus Dynamic Boards

 

In no-limit hold ’em there are 22,100 possible flops. Each of these flops creates a unique ordering of hand values for the cards held by each player at the table, and a unique distribution of hand equities. If you had a central processing unit implanted in your brain, you could study each of these 22,100 flops independently to understand perfectly how each affects hand ranking and equity distribution.

If you’re not yet enhanced with unfathomable computing power, twenty-two thousand unique outcomes is just way too much information to calculate and retain. It makes sense, therefore, to put different flop types into groups, where a given group of flops tends to behave in a certain way.

The most important grouping is the distinction between static and dynamic flops. A static flop is one like K♠7♦3♥—where the hand values (particularly hands near the top of the pile like 7-7, K-7, A-K, and K-Q) are relatively unlikely to change on the turn or river. If you’re ahead on the flop, you’ll probably still be ahead on the river. In this example, either you hold a king or you don’t. There’s no flush draw available. And the only straight draw is a gutshot between the 7 and the 3. Only one overcard (an ace) can come on a subsequent street to beat you if you hold the king.

A dynamic flop is one like 9♣7♠4♣—where hand values (again, particularly the ones at the top of the heap like 4-4, J-J, A-9, and T-9) are likely to change significantly on the turn and river. Several factors can make a flop dynamic. But the most important one is a “low highest” card—meaning, where the highest card on the flop is a relatively low card. When the highest card on the flop is a 9 or lower, as in this case, your flop is dynamic, since it’s likely one, or possibly two, overcards will come by the river. These overcards can completely upset the ordering of hands.

Flush and straight draws can also make a flop dynamic. But players tend to overestimate the importance of draws, compared to simply the rank of the highest card on the flop. As you know, a pair of jacks beats a pair of nines just as surely as a flush. But it’s a lot easier to make a pair of jacks, so the reordering of hands is more drastic when an overcard hits the board than a flush card.

Here’s the math behind a jack hitting versus a flush completing. Say the flop comes 9♣7♠4♣. There are 55 total possible flush-draw hands, and if I started counting them all for this flop—A♣K♣, A♣Q♣, A♣J♣, A♣T♣, A♣8♣, etc.—and I counted every possible combination, I’d get 55 hands.

In hold ’em, this is always the number of possible flush-draw hands when two of any suit hit the flop. 55.

There are a total of 180 possible hands that have a jack in them (excluding J-J). That’s more than three times as many flush-drawing hands.

So, say I hold A-9 on this 9♣7♠4♣ flop. More hands leapfrog me in the rankings if a jack hits than if a club hits. When a club hits, only 45 hands improve to beat A-9 (plus a few stray two pair hands). It’s 45 hands, not 55, because the appearance of a third club eliminates the possibility of hands using that card. That is, if the turn is the 2♣, no one can hold A♣2♣.

But when a jack hits the board, any two cards that include a jack improve to beat A-9. That’s 135 possible combinations—far more than the 45 possible flushes. Of course, sometimes the flop action will eliminate many of the hands with a jack and another random card. But sometimes the flop action won’t eliminate many hands—if it goes check-check, for instance. Or if someone makes a C-bet, he could be betting any two cards.

In any event, an overcard hitting the turn will usually overturn the ordering of hands as much if not more than a flush card.

There’s more to say on this topic. For now, keep in mind that static flops are ones where hand rankings—yours and your opponents’—are unlikely to change much on the turn and river. Dynamic flops are ones where hand rankings are likely to change significantly on the turn and river.

Static flops—K-7-3, K-Q-4, A-9-5, Q-J-2, K-6-6—will typically feature one or two high cards. These flops become semi-static when there’s also a flush draw present. And when the flop also contains a straight draw, or is all one suit—flops like A♣Q♠9♣ or K♦7♦6♦—then they’ve slid toward a gray area between static and dynamic. Even on flops such as these, there’s a good chance the player who flops top pair will continue to hold the best hand by the river. But clearly, added straight and flush possibilities muddy the situation.

On the other end, a rainbow 8-4-2 flop is dynamic, even without flush draws. It’s just too likely an overcard will hit on either the turn or river. When you add a flush draw, it gets even more dynamic. If you straighten the cards like 8-7-5, it also gets more dynamic.

Remember that with static flops, there are large equity differences between the various hand levels. If you flop a set on a static board, you’re nearly a lock against anyone else. If you flop two pair including top pair, you’re a big favorite over any one-pair hand. If you flop top pair with a good kicker, you’re a big favorite over someone with a lesser kicker, and you’re a pretty big favorite over middle or bottom pair.

As you move down from the best to the worst hand, the equity differences between each set of hands is large.

On dynamic flops, equities tend to run closer together. For instance, take a dynamic flop like 8♣7♠5♣. And consider three hands playing this flop—A♣Q♣, J♠J♣, and 8♦6♦. Each of these hands comes from very different hand tiers. But all three of them have equity against one another. There’s no clear ordering of best to worst, and it would be difficult to convince the player holding any of these three hands they’re so far behind they might as well give up.

The strategic implications of static versus dynamic boards are many. But for now I’ll drill down on one last idea. On static boards, if you bet, you’re presenting a clear threat. “Whatever hand you have,” your bet says, “I have a better one. And against a better hand you have little chance to win.”

On dynamic boards, however, a bet doesn’t carry the same threat. At best, a bet says, “I have a hand that has a good chance to win,” to which an opponent easily could say, “So do I.” And there’s a call.

So what does any of this have to do with Skill #4, barreling?

In general, on a static board, you need fewer barrels to “get the job done” than on a dynamic board. Seen the other way, if your bluffs haven’t worked after betting the flop and turn on a static board, there’s a good chance you should give up. But if your bluff bets haven’t worked on a dynamic board, you may still want to give a river bluff a shot. It’s likely your opponents are still drawing and by the river, have missed everything. That, or they’ll worry that your river bet means you outdrew them.

Consider these examples:

In both cases, it’s a 2-5 game with $1,000 stacks. Two players limp. You make it $25 to go on the button and the limpers call. There’s $82 in the pot.

First, the flop comes K♦Q♠3♥. Your opponents check, and you bet $60. The first limper folds, and the second limper calls.

The turn is the 6♥. Your opponent checks, and you bet $160. He calls.

The river is the 6♦. Your opponent checks.

In a typical 2-5 game, you should probably give up if you’re bluffing. (Notice that I never told you what hand you held. For the purposes of this example, it’s not important.)

Why should you give up? On a K♦Q♠3♥ flop, when your opponent calls your $60, he could have a king or a queen or a straight draw—hands like A-T and J-T. He could have even better hands like two pair, or a set. And it’s possible (with some player types) that he’s got a hand weaker than a queen.

But it’s unlikely he called with too many weaker hands than a queen. It would not be normal for most players to call this flop with a hand like 9-8, or 6-4, or even 2-2. Therefore, the fact that he called has meaning. And since you’d expect your opponent to have folded a good portion of weak hands or hands that totally missed, the fact that he didn’t fold makes his average remaining hand considerably stronger.

In this example, the turn brings a brick. He checks again. You bet again—a largish bet for a typical 2-5 game. Your bet says something clear on this static board. “Ok, I know you flopped some kind of hand, but I really think I have you beat.”

When your opponent calls, in effect he’s saying, “I’m not sure about that.”

On a static board like K-Q-3-6, both the bettor and the caller are clearly saying they have made hands, and each person feels there’s a good chance their hand is best.

On the river, the board is now K-Q-3-6-6. The confidence in each player doesn’t change much. The caller still feels his hand is best. If you bluff, it’s a pure power play. A river bet says, “Ha! I’ve got a monster, and I’ve got you on the hook for the full ride.” For the bluff to succeed, your opponent must understand this implied dialogue (not a good assumption about many low-stakes players), and your opponent must also believe you. He must also have the discipline to lay down a hand you know he likes.

In general, this is a losing bluff strategy. You don’t barrel to muscle people off hands you know they like. The goal of barreling is to catch your opponent with too many bad hands, and watch them fold to get rid of them. In this hand, on your K-Q-3-6-6 board, the flop barrel accomplishes this (because many hands look pretty weak on a K-Q-3 flop). The turn barrel also does this by getting an opponent to relinquish all his marginal hands after he called a flop, hands like A-T and Q-9. By the time the turn is bet and called, the caller will have a small remaining set of fairly strong hands. Barreling time, for this pot at least, is over.

Consider a different board. It’s the same 2-5 game with $1,000 stacks and the same pre-flop action (two limp-callers).

This time, however, the flop comes 9♣7♠4♣. Your opponents check, you bet $60, the first limper folds, and the second limper calls.

The turn is the 5♦. Your opponent checks, you bet $160, and he calls.

The river is the K♦. Your opponent checks again on this 9♣7♠4♣5♦K♦ board

You might consider firing a final barrel of perhaps $300 into the $522 pot. Why is this situation different?

Because this board is dynamic. Your opponent could have been calling with a variety of different hand types. He could hold a one-pair hand like A-9 or T-T. He could hold a flush draw like A♣J♣. He could hold a pair, plus a straight draw, such as 7-6 or 6-5.

The implied dialog on this board is very different from the one on the static board above. When you bet the turn, you’re not representing any particular sort of hand. But because you raised pre-flop, many players will tend to give you credit for a hand like A-A or Q-Q.

More importantly (remember, barreling is mostly about what your opponents might hold), your opponent could hold anything from a pair to a flush draw to a straight draw, to a combination of two or three of those things. A player might call the turn on a board like 9♣7♠4♣5♦ for lots of reasons. And by no means do all of them imply the player feels they have a strong hand worth showing down.

The river card—the K♦—is likely a bad card for the caller almost no matter what hand he holds. If he has a flush draw, he missed. Likewise, all the straight draws missed. Even if he held a hand like T-T, he now has to worry you had something like A-K and have outdrawn him.

The bottom line? Because the flop started out dynamic, your opponent will likely have found more hands to call with on the flop and turn. But by the river, a significant percentage of these hands will have bricked out. Your opponent can still have plenty of weak hands he’ll consider folding out.

 

Get The Course right now.

Three Skills To Beat 5-10 from The Course by Ed Miller

The Course: Serious Hold 'em Strategy For Smart Players by Ed Miller

My upcoming book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy for Smart Players, is a practical guide to winning in live no-limit cash games. It starts with what you need to stop losing at $1-$2, and it adds on skills until you get to what you need to beat $5-$10.

I’m giving you a taste for my recipe to conquer everyday cash games. Last articles I covered the skills to beat $1-$2 and also $2-$5 games. In this article (published originally in Card Player vol. 28 no. 4) I’ll talk about the extra tricks you’ll need once you move up to $5-$10.

Skill #8. Exploiting Aggression

Skill #2 was a simple commandment. Don’t pay people off. If they bet big on the turn or river, they won’t be bluffing often enough to justify a call. So fold. Fold and don’t think twice.

That skill is very useful in $1-$2 and $2-$5 games. It can be useful in $5-$10 games as well—against opponents who play like the ones you’ll find at $1-$2 and $2-$5. But once you venture into $5-$10 games, you’ll find that you’re up against many players who are more than willing to bluff big. This requires you to abandon (temporarily) Skill #2 and develop this skill instead.

There’s usually a big flaw in the aggression many players use at $5-$10. Since they play too many hands preflop, they end up with lots of bad hands after the flop. But they don’t want to just fold these hands, nor do they want to call down hopelessly with them. So they turn them into bluffs. The problem is that all bluffs need to be supported by an appropriate number of good hands.

In other words, if you want to bluff when the flush card comes, then you’d better be a threat to have the flush as well. If you want to bluff when the board pairs, then you’d better also be able to have trips or a full house.

The flaw is, in many cases, players at $5-$10 try to bluff in situations where they do not have enough good hands to back them up. Or even when they do have some good hands to back up their bluffs, they try to bluff with so many bad hands that the bluffs flood out the value hands.

Either way, you can exploit this aggression by anticipating it and then by calling. It’s a tricky skill, however, because you need to understand clearly which good hands are likely and which ones are unlikely. You also need to be able to guess which bad hands will be present, and how often the player might try to bluff with them. When the bluffs crowd out the good hands, you call. When it’s the other way around, you fold. To thrive at $5-$10, you will need to learn to tell the difference.

Skill #9. Playing Deep

Typically, $1-$2 and $2-$5 games come with capped buy-ins that limit losses. Even when the buy-ins aren’t capped—or the cap is high—many players come to these games and buy in short. These are games that everyday folks play, and they want to gamble in the three figures, not the four or five figures.

At $5-$10, that dynamic begins to shift. Games at this level often have a high buy-in cap or no cap at all. These games begin to attract recreational players with big bankrolls and even bigger egos. They also attract pros who think nothing of covering a table with $20,000 or more. The game plays deep.

Now you don’t have to play deep to play at this level. You can buy in for $600 at a $5-$10 game and play it that way. There’s no shame in it at all.

But if you want to become one of the pro-level players who buys in to cover the table, you will have to learn to play deep.

Mathematically, there’s nothing fundamental that changes when you play deep. Since bet sizes tend to increase exponentially in no-limit, even buy-ins that are very large compared to the blinds open up only another one or two possible rounds of betting or raising.

I’ve found that there is one key adjustment when you’re playing deep.

You have to learn the psychology of it. Some players are far too eager to play for stacks when you’re very deep. Other players are too fearful to play for stacks when you’re very deep. Players who play for stacks at roughly the correct rate are rare.

The deeper you are playing, the more significant the errors people make on the final bet become relative to the preflop action. In other words, if you have $5,000 stacks, it’s far more important to catch someone making an error in how they play the final $3,000 than it is to catch them making an error on the first $100. This is true even though players have the chance to make preflop errors much more frequently than errors for stacks.

So the trick to playing with deep stacks is often to determine first whether your opponent is liable to get stacks in too easily or to be too fearful to play for stacks. Once you’ve determined that, you want to bloat pots preflop more than you might in a shorter stacked game. You don’t want to go wild with this, but in general, you should:

  1. Be more willing to 3-bet preflop than you might in a shorter stacked game.
  2. Be much more willing to call a 3-bet preflop than you might in a shorter stacked game, particularly if you are in position.
  3. Be more willing to 4-bet preflop than you might in a shorter stacked game.

This preflop play seeds the pot and prepares you to take advantage of the predictable errors your opponents make.

Skill #10. Taking On The Pros

Once you hit $5-$10, you will be playing with professional players. These pros have, to some extent or another, acquired all the skills in this book. The only true, long-term way to beat them is to master these skills better than they have.

But on the way to that goal, you can take shortcuts here and there. A big way is to use reverse tells. I don’t mean that you should wiggle your ear when you’re strong when you usually wiggle it when you’re weak.

Instead, I mean that you can mimic the weak plays that other players make, but have a surprise in store. For instance, you may notice that recreational players like to bet out in a certain spot to see where they are at. You can mimic that play, but do it with either strong hands or hands you are willing to make a big bluff with.

Or you can check value hands on the river that you’d normally bet, because it’s easier to get the pro players to bluff or to bet weaker hands than to get them to call with a worse hand.

Once you have acquired and mastered all these skills, you should be able to hold your own in virtually any live no-limit hold’em game anywhere on the planet.

Pre-order The Course today and receive a discounted coaching package.

Four Skills To Beat 2-5 from The Course by Ed Miller

The Course: Serious Hold 'em Strategy For Smart Players by Ed Miller

My upcoming book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy for Smart Players, is a practical guide to winning in live no-limit cash games. It starts with what you need to stop losing at $1-$2, and it adds on skills until you get to what you need to beat $5-$10.

I’m giving you a taste for my recipe to conquer everyday cash games. Last article I covered the basic skills needed to beat a $1-$2 game. In this article (which appeared originally in Card Player vol. 28 no. 3), I’ll talk about the extra tricks you’ll need once you move up to $2-$5.

Skill #4. Barreling

There are a number of definitions of barreling, but here’s a simple one. Barreling is betting because your opponent (or opponents) checked.

Frequently, barreling is a type of bluff bet. You’re making the bet because you expect your opponents to have too weak a set of hands to put up a winning fight.

Barreling is a cornerstone skill to move beyond the most basic no-limit strategy. It’s a play designed to thwart two of the most common ways players try to get away with poor play.

Almost all live no-limit players play too many hands preflop. These extra hands are bad hands. (If they weren’t bad, then these hands wouldn’t be “too many”.) After the flop, players have to figure out a way to get rid of or hide these extra bad hands.

At $2-$5, you will see people most commonly try one of two methods to deal with the bad hands. Most commonly, they will fold them. Also popular, many players will call with them.

Nearly all players mix these strategies to some extent. A player may fold most of the time, but call sometimes. Another player may call most of the time, but fold sometimes. Also, a player may tend to call on the flop and turn, but tend to fold on the river.

As a winning no-limit player, your job is to catch your opponents trying to hide their bad hands. For both folding and calling, the way to catch an opponent in the act is to bet.

If they’re folders, then it’s obvious why betting works. It gets them to fold. They put the money in preflop or on the flop and then they fold it away.

If they’re callers, then it’s perhaps counterintuitive why betting is important. While it’s true that you don’t want to bluff a calling station, you still need to barrel at calling stations. The only thing that changes between folders and callers is which hands you choose to barrel. Against folders, you tend to want to barrel all your junk, but you might check back your hands with a little value like bottom or middle pair.

Against callers, it’s the opposite. You might check back your total junk, but you want to barrel all your marginal pair hands. A hand like a pair of eights that might have very little value against a folder can have quite a bit of value against a caller—since if they want to call with their bad hands, they will necessarily be calling with unpaired hands.

You check? I bet. It’s a basic $2-$5 skill.

Skill #5. Evaluating Board Texture

Board texture is poorly understood among most live players. I look at it like this. Preflop, every pot starts out identical. The same hands have value and the same hands don’t have value.

The flop changes the rules of this game. It reorders the hand rankings. It alters the distance in value between hands. The turn does the same. As does the river.

What doesn’t change, however, is the math of the game. A $50 bet into a $100 pot always offers 3-to-1 odds to the caller, no matter what’s on board.

What makes this game tricky is to square the things that don’t change—preflop hand values and pot and bet sizes—with the things that do change—postflop hand rankings and equities.

Most $2-$5 players do a terrible job of this. When a board comes 8-4-2 rainbow, certain types of hands have value, and the equities work a certain way. When the board comes Q-T-T with a two suit, hand values change, and the equities work differently. Each type of board texture resets the strategic rules, and most $2-$5 players can’t keep up.

This misevaluation leads typical $2-$5 players to fold too much on certain board textures and to call too much on others. It leads them to stop betting too quickly with some relatively strong hands while they bet far too recklessly with other hands that actually aren’t so strong.

If you learn the basics of how board textures work and you practice looking at how hand ranges behave on certain types of flops, turns, and rivers, you will be able to identify and punish the errors your opponents make.

Skill #6. Making Live Reads

Live reads are the general term for all the bits of information available in a live cash game. Of these, I consider bet sizing tells to be the most important. One of the great things about no-limit is that players get to choose their own bet sizes. Hidden within these bet sizes, for most live no-limit players, is information about how players feel about their hands.

A player who wants you to fold might shade a bet a few chips bigger. A player who is worried about getting raised might shade a bet a few chips smaller. A player who is looking for information might bet even smaller.

At the $2-$5 level, players frequently try to control the action by making bets that are intentionally small. They figure that if they bet small first, you won’t be able to bet big instead. All this bet sizing information can give you clear direction for how to exploit a situation.

Physical tells are useful sometimes. Also, there are subtle “vibes” that contain information. These vibes actually appear all over the place when you play live. Players give off weak vibes frequently, for example. I believe these vibes are actually physical tells that brains process and interpret unconsciously—as opposed to the conscious observation and translation associated with traditional physical tells that you might find explained in a book.

You can learn some rules of thumb for live reads, but ultimately you will learn how these work with experience and intentional observation.

Skill #7. Emotional Numbing

The amounts of money that change hands at $2-$5 are significant for most people. To play successfully at this level, you must learn to numb yourself to the emotional ups and downs. Bankroll management plays a role. So does self-talk and self-coaching. Hand analysis away from the table is also important. The ultimate goal is to build up tolerance to losing—both for magnitude of losses and for prolonged bad runs. I don’t have all the answers, but in the book I have a few tips that have worked to help me make sharp plays and keep me in action.

Return to the Table of Contents or move on to Three Skills to Beat 5-10.

Three Skills To Beat 1-2 from The Course by Ed Miller

The Course: Serious Hold 'em Strategy For Smart Players by Ed Miller

This article appeared originally in Card Player vol. 28 no. 2. It outlines the first main part (Part II) of my new book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy for Smart Players.

The framework of the book is very straightforward. I believe that nearly any smart person can learn to win at live no-limit hold’em games. Furthermore, I believe that you can break down what’s needed to beat the games into a series of increasingly complex skills.

First you learn the most fundamental skill. Once you have it mastered, you move onto the next skill, which builds upon the first. And so on. After you learn a few skills, you can beat the softest games in the room—the $1-$2 (or equivalent) games.

To move up, you need to acquire some more difficult skills. But still, the path to improvement is fairly linear. Master the previous skill, then acquire the next one. One skill on top of the other.

This straightforward model for learning poker breaks down if your goal is to attack the toughest games in the world. High-level poker is complex, counterintuitive, and non-linear.

But the poker played in live cardrooms around the world for everyday stakes is not so difficult.

I will give you a taste of what’s in the book. I will list out the skills needed to beat each level and give you a brief summary of each. This article starts from the beginning and takes you through what’s needed to beat $1-$2.

Skill #1. Play A Simple And Effective Preflop Strategy.

Without a doubt, most players’ problems begin preflop. Your typical live no-limit hold’em player plays way, way too many hands. If you play too many hands, by definition all the extra hands are bad hands. Playing too many hands creates an instant problem—how do you get rid of all the bad hands you are stuck with after the flop?

There are three ways to deal with bad hands after the flop. You can fold them. You can call down with them. Or you can try to bluff with them.

None of these three ways actually gets rid of the problem. They just try to hide the problem. If you choose to fold them, for example, then you can hope that your opponent doesn’t bet very often. If you call down with them, then, again, you can hope that your opponent doesn’t bet too much. If you try to bluff with them, then you can hope that your opponent doesn’t notice and keeps folding. (Perhaps he’s chosen to fold all his bad hands.)

The first step to winning at $1-$2 is avoiding this problem in the first place. You use a tight preflop strategy focused on playing mostly pocket pairs, suited big card hands, and suited connectors. You avoid ragged suited hands and most offsuit hands.

Furthermore, you raise frequently preflop. I recommend never limping from any position outside the blinds. I recommend this not because limping is always wrong, but because limping is usually wrong—or at least raising is usually better. I’d much rather most players miss the occasional spot to limp than fall into bad, self-destructive preflop habits.

I also recommend reraising a lot preflop. When I play no-limit, I am usually the tightest player at the table. I also am usually the player who 3-bets most frequently. This reraising strategy begins the process of punishing your opponents for playing too many hands.

Finally, I recommend learning a strategy and, for the most part, sticking to it. I used to advocate playing a fluid preflop strategy that depends on game conditions. “It always depends,” is something you’ve no doubt read a thousand times.

I don’t recommend that philosophy anymore—at least not for preflop play. Again, it’s not because it’s wrong to adjust your preflop strategy. Instead, I believe that you don’t gain as much by changing things up preflop as some people seem to think. And the pitfalls to playing an ever-changing preflop strategy are myriad.

The bottom line is that if you are at the stage where you are learning to beat $1-$2 (or learning to beat $2-$5 or $5-$10 as well), I believe you are best served by mastering a tight, static, effective preflop strategy.

Skill #2. Don’t Pay People Off

This skill is powerful. It’s based on a strategic idea that applies nearly universally in small, soft no-limit hold’em games. When people make big bets and raises on the turn and river, they aren’t bluffing.

It’s not that they never bluff. But there is a theoretical percentage of the time that players should be bluffing if they want to play well. In nearly all cases, small stakes players will fall short of this theoretical percentage with their bluffing when the big bets come out. They bluff—but they don’t bluff often enough to make you want to call.

Therefore, if someone makes a big bet or raise, you should assume they have the hand they are representing. This usually means you should fold.

If you should fold, you should fold. Every time.

That’s the hard part. It’s easy to talk yourself into calling. Maybe you feel like you’re being bullied, so you decide you’re going to take a stand. (At $1-$2, it’s more likely you’re just running bad than that your opponent is intentionally manipulating you.)

Maybe you flopped a big hand and you just can’t accept that you were outdrawn.

Maybe it’s not clear what your opponent is representing, and you are confused or curious.

I don’t care. Fold. After adopting a solid preflop strategy, learning to fold in these situations is the most critical skill to beating $1-$2 games.

Skill #3. Assess The Value Of Your Hand

Everyone can figure out if they’ve flopped top pair or not. It’s a little trickier to figure out what your top pair is worth. This answer depends on kicker strength, board texture, number of opponents, and opponent tendencies.

A very common mistake many $1-$2 players make is that they allow themselves to be guided by a fear of being drawn out on. As soon as they flop top pair, they are thinking of ways to push people out of the pot so their top pair will hold up.

This is exactly the wrong approach. If a pot ends before showdown, it’s irrelevant that you held top pair. You might as well have held two blank cards. The only way it matters that you flopped top pair is if you can get the hand to showdown so that you can show off your pretty cards.

Your goal when you flop top pair or any other value hand, therefore, is to figure out how you can get the hand to showdown while charging your opponents the maximum value of your hand.

This skill isn’t as simple as the first two. It can be a little tricky to evaluate the value of your good hands. Furthermore, this value fluctuates depending on the turn and river cards. But master this skill and you will have everything you need to beat $1-$2.

Return to the Table of Contents or move on to Four Skills to Beat 2-5.

Poker’s 1% Excerpt: Is This Relevant In My Small Stakes Game?

This is the first of two excerpts from my forthcoming book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top, which releases on March 11, 2014.

Elite players (the 1%) and everyone else (the 99%) think about poker in completely different ways. It’s not like the 99% just need to get incrementally better at what they’re doing to join the 1%. They need a massive overhaul. They need to tear much of what they’ve learned down to the ground and rebuild their thought processes the right way.

I don’t claim it’s an easy thing to do. Some people will read my book and say, “You know what, that’s not for me. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.” It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. But a lot of people will read the book and be inspired. They’ll want to do the work for the promise that they may possibly someday become truly elite at this game (and reap the rewards).

But here’s where lots of players run into an immediate roadblock. They’re trying to learn to think like an elite player, but they’re still playing in $1-$2, $1-$3, and $2-$5 games with the 99%. How do you use an elite-type thought process in these everyday games? That’s what this excerpt is all about.

***

Is This Relevant In My Game?

“I play $1-$3 at my local casino. My opponents don’t know a flush from a straight. Is any of this relevant to me?”

My short answer is, yes, this is relevant. I think it’s relevant in three major ways.

First, let’s say you play $1-$2, $1-$3, $2-$5, or a similar game. Your opponents are not elite (understatement alert) at poker. Yet I’m guessing if you’ve been playing these games for a while, you have your share of frustrations with the game. These guys you play with, they make plenty of mistakes. This you know. But somehow you aren’t pulling $70 an hour out of your game. Why not?

I believe the answer is almost always twofold. First, you unwittingly make some of the same mistakes your opponents make. So even though they make a mistake, when it’s your turn to be in the same situation, you also make a mistake and give back your edge. Second, you fail to take advantage of many of the mistakes your opponents make. So even though the money is there for the taking, you don’t take it.

I believe the heart of this problem is the same as the problem with the generous craps table. A pass line bet wins 49.4% of the time. The difference between 49.4% and 50% is the house edge. If you were to find a magic craps table where a pass line bet wins 50.6% of the time, the house edge would be all yours. All you’d have to do is max bet the pass line repeatedly and eventually you’d be ready to buy the New York Yankees.

But even if the magic table were sitting right under your nose, you wouldn’t notice. It’s hard to tell the 49.4% table from the 50.6% table just by eyeballing it. It’s impossible if you’re not specifically looking for it. It’s even more impossible if you don’t even know what to look for.

The reality of the situation is that your opponents are making many, many mistakes that you are unable to identify because you don’t know what to look for. You also make many mistakes that you don’t know are mistakes because you don’t know what to look for.

Any mistake in no-limit hold’em can be identified and explained from a frequency-based perspective. What does this guy do wrong? Well, he bets the flop 80 percent of the time, but, when called, he only bets the turn 30 percent of the time.

Bam. That’s a huge error. How do you take advantage of it? Well, you could call the flop bet 70 percent of the time like you’re supposed to. But, because this error is so large, you can formulate an exploitative play to take even more advantage of this error. You could actually call this flop bet 100 percent of the time—yup, even with the no pair, no draw hands. Then the 70 percent of the time he checks to you on the turn, you bet.

If you’re like most of the rest of the 99%, this adjustment is one you don’t currently make. You never think, “Hey, this guy’s betting percentage plummets between the flop and turn. I exploit this by calling all his flop bets and torturing him on the turn.”

If you’ve read my book, Playing The Player, you’ve seen a series of similar adjustments that work to destroy typical live no-limit hold’em cash game players. I could explain every one of these adjustments from a frequency-based perspective. One of the big adjustments I recommend in that book is to exploit tight-aggressive players who like to bet-fold too frequently. For instance, on the turn their default play with a hand such as top pair will be to bet, planning to fold to a raise.

Well, what it means is that they are failing to defend 70 percent (or whatever the appropriate number might be, given all factors) of hands against the turn raise. They are failing consistently and predictably to defend in this specific situation. So what do you do? You raise, raise, raise. You raise two blank cards if the frequencies are off by enough.

And you print money, because they are not obeying the basic math of the game.

If you play live poker, your opponents will make enormous frequency-based mistakes on nearly every hand. It’s not like they are folding 40% of the time when they should be folding 35% of the time. They are folding 65% of the time when they should be folding 35% of the time. Gigantic mistakes, these. They make mistakes because they have no idea what the correct frequencies should be. But, more importantly, they make these mistakes because they play way too many hands before the flop.

If you play way too many hands before the flop, it is impossible to play after the flop with the correct frequencies.

When you add hands preflop, you are adding junk. None of the hands you add are good ones. They are all weak hands—hands that are, theoretically, too weak to be playing. This weakness carries forward through to every street. Therefore, it is nearly impossible not to fold too frequently on the turn and river when you are playing too many hands and you are up against an opponent who plays correctly.

Nearly everyone who plays live poker plays too many hands preflop. Therefore, nearly everyone who plays live poker will fold too frequently in many situations on the turn and river.

I believe that most of my edge in today’s live games comes from bluffing the turn and river in situations where I know my opponents fold too frequently.
Therefore, I believe that the most important reason to learn the frequency-based strategy if you play small stakes live poker is so you can systematically identify the massive mistakes your opponents make. Watch their frequencies. If they bet the flop and you call, how often do they bet the turn? Is it most of the time (i.e., 60-75 percent) or is it not?

When you call the turn, how often do they give up on the river rather than follow through? When you raise a flop continuation bet, do they call 70 percent of the time or much less? What types of board textures create what frequencies in your opponents?

If you pay attention to what your opponents do from a frequency-based perspective, you will very quickly see that your opponents’ frequencies are often way, way out of whack. Once you observe this, it’s a slam dunk that they are exploitable. The way to exploit them should also be similarly obvious. If they fold too much, you bluff. (Frequently, the theoretically correct bluffing frequency in these situations is 100%.) If they give up too frequently on the next street after one of their bets is called, you increase your calling frequency of the first bet and you bet the extra junk hands when they give up.

The game can become very simple when you view it from this perspective. You’re looking at frequencies, and you’re trying to find frequencies that are out of whack. When you find them, you adopt the simple counterstrategy. Then you profit. It’s really that easy. (Of course, the profit is served with a nice hunk of variance on the side. This is, after all, poker.)

***

Order Poker’s 1% today. The PDF e-book format will ship on March 11, 2014. Other format e-books and the paperback will be ready a few weeks after that.

Poker’s 1% Status Update

I’ve got a new book coming out very soon. It’s called Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top. It’s a great book that generalizes some of the concepts presented in Playing The Player.

Poker's 1% by Ed Miller

I announced the book in November and ran a limited-time preorder sale. If you snagged a copy during that sale, I said that I expected to send you the PDF version of the book in February. It’s now February, so I figured it was time for an update.

We’re still on target for a late February finish. All that’s left to do is the layout, which should take maybe 3 weeks (give or take). Once the book is fully laid out, I will package and email it ASAP. If, for some reason, the layout takes a bit longer than 3 weeks, it’s because I’ve hired someone with experience to lay the thing out right this time rather than try to do it myself. So expect an upgraded reading experience over my last two books.

I also promised a two week sneak peek to my preorderers. So I’m going to finish the book and email it out. Then I’m going to wait two weeks after that before I release it for general sale. The full release date, therefore, is looking to be early-mid March.

At release, I will have only a PDF e-book ready. The Kindle version is more complicated this time around, due to the layout upgrades. So it will likely be 4-6 weeks from late February before a Kindle version is ready. A similar timeline goes for the paperback version. If you preordered the book or you buy the e-book at release, and if you’d like the Kindle format when it’s ready, just email me when I announce that the Kindle version is done, and I’ll send it to you.

Preorderers also bought a paperback copy, and I will ship those paperbacks out as soon as I receive them. My best guess for that is April.

That’s about it. Oh, and I’m launching a new website here at EdMillerPoker.com. I’m not taking down the old website yet, just slowly phasing things over for now. I’ll be posting articles here periodically, and I plan to start producing more video and audio content in 2014. So stay tuned. If you run a poker-themed blog or other website, please drop me a link over to this new site on your blog so people can begin to find the new site.

I’ll be posting more updates from now through the paperback and Kindle releases in April. I’ll post some excerpts and other info to let you guys know a little more about what the book is about.