Winning players, especially in the live realm, are fragile entities. They are hard wired to believe their ability is what sets them apart from the competition. They feed off the weak, rarely encountering resistance, especially from other grinders. Basically, the average winning live cash player survives in a comfortable bubble making a consistent living so long as he isn’t disrupted. My goal, as I set out to distinguish myself, was to ignore the weakest players in the game, and instead focus upon exploiting the everyday regular. The idea of giving capable opponents a pass under some pretense that there are easier spots didn’t sit well with my competitive side. Instead I sought to make the everyday regular a part of the target group.

Enemy Tactics: Small Ball
Given the trendy nature of the game, my task was simplified. Most amateurs mimic the play of those that beat them, resulting in some mix of tight/aggressive and loose/passive play. As I began dissecting the play of most grinders I realize they employ a style of small ball revolving around playing controlled, heads up pots, in position, against break-even/bad players. The strategy is extremely profitable and basic to the core. The goal is to keep pots manageable with small raises and occasional three bets, which are heavily weighted toward strength (QQ+ and AK). Earning one post flop street of value is where they define their earn. Any other bet is a bonus since pots only swell when they have a huge hand, likely pitted against another big hand. Despite this description fitting that of a random winner in a $1/$2 game, the grinders remain the same at all levels. As stakes increase and mistakes decrease, the everyday regulars adapt by tightening ranges and adding aggression. Since higher stake, uncapped games play deeper they also play looser, which allows the grinder to plug away. Overall their strategy remains unaltered; capitalize on loose action and win a little bit at time.

The Counter Tactic: Long Ball
The actual profitability from small ball comes from exploiting common mistakes. Ultimately, in order to be a reasonable winner, we would need to exploit the mistakes our opponents make while making significantly fewer mistakes ourselves. I’d rather get a nine to five. I’m human, I’m flawed, and moreover, I enjoy the creative aspect NL Hold’em provides. To be creative and fight for pots we need to give action and sacrifice small edges to gain bigger edges later. After being fed up with dissecting each and every action, searching for the minuscule mistake where I could have saved a bet, I looked for another approach; one that would give these guys fits. In short, I widened all of my ranges through specific actions.

To most the mechanics of the game have stayed the same. Barring a drunk at the table, the standard raise will be somewhere between two and five big blinds (the latter only after multiple limpers). Three-bets will be infrequent and generally weighted toward premiums. The standard c-bets will be between half and two-thirds pot. Two and three barrels will be polarized to a monster hand or a busted draw. And finally range assessing will be a moot point as most actions directly define the hand. I decided that rather than exploiting tiny mistakes for marginal gain, I would employ a strategy that forced my opponents into awkward, uncomfortable situations; inevitably leading to major mistakes which can earn me players’ stacks. Long Ball was born.

That’s actually misleading, Super System was the first strategy guide on punishing opponents via big pot poker. Early in the boom the misapplication of what Doyle preached could be seen in any given game that consisted of a kid under the age of 25. Raising and c-betting was more profitable then than it ever will be again, which is why playing for stacks with weak draws against tight passive opponents was a big mistake. Other factors made the style unprofitable as well, such as stack sizing (most games were very shallow), misguided aggression, and most of all the inability to range assess. As the game evolved and players became more educated, gambling was reduced significantly. Pot control became a staple and big mistakes became a thing of the past. Most players built a game where they can’t lose much, but can’t win much either…very risk averse. Much like other trends in poker, power poker is prime for a resurgence.

The Breakdown:
Long ball, in it’s simplest terms, is big pot, maximum pressure poker. The focus shifts from having the best hand at showdown for small pots, to avoiding showdown all together in big pots. Much like Texas, everything is bigger. Standard opens are five to ten big blinds. Three bet-to-flat frequency is balanced and based mostly on table dynamics; three betting more often in loose games where pots are often multi-way. Continuation bets are large; ranging from three-quarters pot to twice the pot, all based around stack manipulation and desired pressure. Each bet made has a direct, as well as, expected purpose. My sizing will often dictate how many bullets I plan to unload, both for value and for bluff.

Ironically our overall strategy is similar to that of the small baller. We want to play heads up, in position. The difference is we want to do so for an inflated pot, and our image is maniacal, leading to much bigger payoffs. Those commonalities are crucial as they lead to the most important part of the entire concept, how our opponents react. Because the dynamics are similar, players counter the same as they would against a good small baller; they bluff catch. By taking passive, trappy, check/call lines they constantly allow us to control the two most important factors in any given hand of poker, board texture and pressure. It takes proficiency in post flop ability and range assessing along with seeing multiple moves ahead in order to execute long ball. But when implemented correctly we’ll be playing as if our opponent’s hand is face up while his stack is in jeopardy.

More important than poker strategy, or money we may incur through implementing it, is the bottom line…

Chicks Dig The Long Ball.

In 2003 something very profound happened to the poker world. A degenerate accountant, with a last name too ironic to be fiction, parlayed his last $36 of online money into $2 million. A perfect storm, that if pitched as a script would surely be dismissed as hokey. I’m a first generation product of “The Moneymaker effect”. I’ve watched poker transform from a shady backroom game to a sophisticated, calculated, battle of wits where only the strong survive. I grew as the game grew; taking my lumps in stride, receiving a crash course in business, life and responsibility. 

Those who helped blaze the trail for NL Hold’em to become the game of choice, speak as if the game is solved. A mathematical game dying due to readily available strategy content, far-less “dead” money, and young optimists with all the answers. However, NL Hold’em isn’t a mechanical game easily conquered by someone who employs a solid strategy. It’s a living, breathing organism that feeds off of short-sighted, small-minded, narcissists.

The fact is, most players create a ceiling through a flawed approach to how they think about the game. Given the dynamic nature of the beast, the game quickly passes them by. The fraction of players who keep their fingers to the pulse adapt. They creatively find new ways to exploit the human element, manipulating each and every variable, resulting in an undefined style that leaves opponents questioning every certainty solidified in their own play. The true innovators are the ones who don’t accept such terms as alwaysnever, and standard. They are the ones who are trashed for not falling in line; their out of the box ideas often dismissed as reckless and mechanically flawed. But this game isn’t conquered by execution. Game theory is the driving force of a world-class pro, willing to sacrifice fundamentals in order to challenge players of all abilities, rather than surviving on an all fish diet.They are the trend setters, hidden beneath a cloak of judgement.  

A close guard is kept on the method behind the madness, revealed in detail to only a trusted few. As eye-opening as my mistakes have been, the most influential asset at my disposal was the close group of peers I discussed the game with. I imagine very few have been privy to the diverse talent and intelligence as was in my group. We learned the game on the fly and our results grew in correlation to hard work and analysis. Most importantly we learned how to think.

Earlier this year I was presented with an opportunity to provide content for a poker app that aimed to make a competitive game out of hand analysis.  I couldn’t sign on fast enough. Insta Poker was the perfect format to provide that group-like environment to the masses; providing a road map with a clear starting point to anyone interested in studying the game. Once I committed to working with Insta Poker, it became clear just how enthralled I was with the learning process. My ideas for in-depth teaching quickly surpassed both my time and focus. I developed a structure; each pack would posses a unique lesson, yet collectively (much like chapters to a book) the packs complete a series, “The Playbook”.

Since my audience is vast in skill set and knowledge of the game, I wanted to develop from the ground up. Now that the first two packs have been released, solidifying the fundamentals of poker, I want to expand the learning process by creating a forum in which packs can be further examined/explained, while providing an open line of communication between myself and the audience.

The first major hurdle I aim to overcome is clearing up any uncertainties resulting from my writing style. I’ve received constructive criticism that my explanations tend to be convoluted to those not all that familiar with poker vernacular. I felt blogging would be perfect to further define the content as well as the language in each pack. Furthermore, I plan to address the desire for more free content by releasing a free pack each month which I will dissect both on Insta Poker, as well as in the correlating blog. Finally, I wanted an outlet where the debate can begin where the packs left off. Consider the comment box an open forum where any questions, thoughts, criticisms or general arguments can be posed.

I’ll end this entry with a two-part video series. It’s a commencement speech given by author David Foster Wallace. Amidst his well versed stories and witty quips, lies an eye-opening lesson on our flawed default thought process. In short, he explains the importance in taking the time to learn how to think. Enjoy…