Why Bigger is Better

Casino Player January 2011

Category: Magazine Articles

Department Title: Poker Beat

HEAD: Why Bigger is Better

I always play the largest no-limit game offered in the card room. The wins at high stake games are fantastic, but the money isn't the only reason I chose to play big. High stakes games are challenging. They force me to be creative and to constantly adapt my style and play. Additionally there is a certain combination of action, gambling, players and risk that only takes place at the big no-limit games.

I didn't always understand how different high stakes poker was. I started out playing live 1-2 NL Texas Holdem'. My game was consistent. I played premium hands and when pressured folded anything that wasn’t the nuts. When I was invited to bigger games I would respond “Why would I move up when I continuously win here?”

To win consistently at low limit games this style of tight-weak poker works best. Players aren't deep so it's difficult to get players off their hands. Bluffing can lead to being committed and leaking a lot of chips.

Thinking back I am appreciative that I didn't learn to bluff at low stakes. Even so my comment was naive and narrow-minded. I didn’t understand how different deep stack Holdem' is. It's an incredibly integrate and amazing game when you play it deep and for lots of money. It takes on a whole different life at the higher stakes. What is just a card game at 1-2 turn into a battle of wills. The hole cards hardly matter and the game is played with perceived images of people. It becomes an "I know you know but what you don't know is... " game.

An excellent example of this mental warfare occurred a month ago at the Bellagio 10-20NL game between myself and one of pokers most loveable superstars. I had been at the table for a couple hours when Phil Laak the Unabomber sat down with 25K. As per Bellagio rules Phil had to post $20 to be dealt in. He did so in cutoff position immediately to my right. This hand began with two players limping hoping to see a cheap flop. Phil in late position and already invested in the pot, raises to $150.

At the big games as well as in life, first impressions are hard to shake. Your image in the first few orbits tends to be what the players at the table think of you for the remaining session. Playing on this information good players create a memorable first impression and then switchgears and play the rest of the session opposite to how they are perceived.

It's my button and I have J7 suited. I am aware that Phil is capable of playing up an aggressive-loose image and then switching to solid poker later in the session, thus in my mind, his range is wide open. His image of me is likely tight, based on our past history and my gender. Myself and one other player call his raise and we are three handed to the flop.

The flop comes AA6 rainbow.

Paired flops at high stakes create action. Players are aware that removing two cards from the deck reduces the likelihood that an opponent holds one of the two remain cards. Mental warfare begins. Who will blink first?

An ace-ace flop is particularly fun because so many hands in a players range contain an ace. This flop is great for bluffing, I know that, and I know Phil knows that.

The first player to act checks, Phil bets $300. I would love to raise here but there is still a player to act behind me. Instead I decided to float and see what the remaining player does. The player folds.

The turn is an 8. Phil bets weak around $300. I like his bet here. He is acting weak for two possible reasons. One, I perceive him as weak and raise; this would give him an option to re-raise and possibly win the pot right here. Or his weak bet represents a player holding an ace trying to build a pot without scaring away a weaker hand.

I indulge him by raising. I min raise to $600. My play appears as either a rise to steal or a value raise with an ace. Phil puts in a three bet now three times my raise to $1500. Again this is a beautiful play by Phil he's representing an ace, and he did raise pre-flop so his bets is saying to me, "I hold one of the two remaining aces".

The problem for Phil is, I play poker-using logic, as well as my women intuition, and for some reason I don't believe he has an ace. I put an end to the hand by shoving all-in for ten thousand. Phil can't call and mucks his hand. I rake in a nice pot with a well-timed bluff.

The play that I described worked because we were both deep. At a small game I would never recommend 4 betting a bluff. Your opponent is likely committed to calling your all-in bet.

At the small games I advise playing tight poker and reaping the rewards of a growing bankroll. Practice self-discipline and never miss a value-bet, value-raise or value re-raise. Perfecting these skills will be profitable in any game. When you do move up your will learn a completely new game that is mental and analytic. The deeper you are the more arsenal you will have to fight the psychological war with. There will be more ways to win the hand, many of which do not require you to be holding anything. The players will be tougher and the plays more complex but that's what makes High Stakes Poker so much fun.

2 comments Edit

2 Questions so far

Phil Laak February 5th, 2011 3:03 pm

The hand,… arghghg… I have racked my brains…. but I couldn’t find it. When I began to think of the hand as IF I ACTUALLY HAD AN ACE AND MADE A HERO FOLD.. Then oddly it fells as if it may just have happened! It seems as if that might be a line I would take if I had perhaps AQ (maybe even AK). I never show my hero folds – in fact I like to take the line of pretending to have folded a bluff when I make hero folds. So that may have been the case.

Be well,

Phil Laak

“Degen for Life”