The Ten Poker Commandments

February 10, 2015 By: KasinoKrime

Hey guys,

Lately I’ve been taking on a bunch of new students, and a lot of questions revolve around general poker advice.. So I felt inspired to write out a few constants in poker that are necessary to be a long-term winner. And although I can’t flow like this guy…

… I did write what I call the Ten Poker Commandments. Frankly I had 25 or so written jotted down, so perhaps I’ll do another blog in the future with the others.. What do you think of the list? From your experience, what would be your 10 poker commandments?

  1. Play MORE when you’re winning, and LESS when you’re losing.
    • From my experience, both winning and losing are habits. In a perfect universe, we would be able to play our A game under any circumstances, but realistically I’ve never come across any player that’s unaffected by tilt, downswings, or fatigue. Booking several winnings sessions in a row undoubtedly builds confidence. Likewise, stringing together 10 consecutive losing sessions wears you down. And confidence, I’ve found, is the #1 factor in playing successful poker. Confident players just win. Period.
    • Resist evaluating your performance on monetary results. Instead, create specific “process” goals that lead to collecting more EV. For example, my process goal each session is to practice being an “excellent decision maker” and to “avoid hesitation, and trust my instincts at each decision point”. Therefore, after the session, I grade myself on how well I performed both of these tasks, rather than how my bottom line looks. Away from the table, I look for ways to eliminate barriers that induce hesitation. If my instincts lead me to a wrong decision, that’s a sign that my intuition is misaligned, and I need to work on that given area.
    • This approach also helps focus the brain RAM solely on things within your control. A byproduct is that it reduces tilt, and encourages an objective approach that’s conducive to playing winning poker.
  1. Beat the rake.
    • Of course, it’s practically impossible to find unraked games, or receive 100% rakeback nowadays (when sites first launched, it was common to have “props”). Regardless, how profitable you are in the long run depends heavily on how much rake you pay. I would go as far to say that at levels below 100PLO it’s practically impossible to make a living without significant rakeback to supplement your winrate. It’s fairly standard even at the lowest limits to accumulate $50/hour on rakeback alone. Nowadays it’s easy to find rakeback deals in the 60%+ range (I could even hook you up with this if interested).
    • If I had to start over again, I’d grind iPoker at the low stakes to build a bankroll, and then move to a bigger site like PokerStars/FTP once I made it to mid/high stakes and needed better table selection. At the low/micros I think table selection is of less importance (much bigger player pool, greater # of weaker players).
  1. Practice sharp observational skills.
    • How often does this happen to you. Sitting at the table, you suddenly look up and a massive pot is going on between two players. You have no idea what the action is, and although there was valuable information to be gained, you have no idea how to interpret it because you can’t figure out WTF has gone down. This is a cardinal sin in live poker.
    • In even the closest spots, the “correct” answer is almost always hidden somewhere.. In a game centered around piecing together incomplete information, it’s important to know where to look for valuable clues. I’ve found a direct correlation with how closely I can focus for long periods of time, and the amount of money I win. The difference maker in thin spots (and there are increasingly more as you continue to move up in stakes) boils down to the ability to size up opponents, and weigh tendencies that aren’t clearly revealed by HUD statistics. Particularly for live players, having the ability to focus intently for extended periods of time can be a massive edge. The people distracted by their phones / iPads don’t have the luxury to click the “last hand” replayer, or pick up on a big physical tell.
  1. Play tight against unknowns.
    • As a rule of thumb, play tight and give bets (especially large ones) respect against unknown players. Several years ago, I had a well known live pro in Vegas tell me that he always does whatever he can to make sure that the first hand he shows down is the winner. He reasoned that playing with a good image is significantly easier than playing with a bad one. Therefore, he made a point to establish himself as a tight player in the minds of his opponents early, so he could get away with bluffs later on. This same concept can be applied both live and online. As a default, play tight early and aggressive later. There are of course exceptions, but as a general rule this is great advice for most players.
  1. If you have bet one street, continue betting the next street.
    • This is a general rule of thumb I picked up from Ed Miller in his “1%” book. More than anything, this illustrates an important point about any poker variant: aggressive poker wins. Good players are consistently searching for ways to bet, and bad players look for reasons to check. Hand reading is easier with the initiative, because it’s clearer which hand you represent. Applying pressure, and utilizing fundamentally sound bet sizing techniques is the foundation for profitable play in any big bet game.
  1. The easiest way to lose money in poker is to build up big pots and give up on them.
    • This is the antithesis to commandment #5. This is why playing against a traditional loose/passive player is so clearly +EV. Their wide preflop ranges are unable to withstand postflop aggression, and therefore are forced to check/fold flops and turns too often to show a profit. Particularly in PLO, where the equities run so closely together, it’s important to avoid check/calling OOP with medium strength hands or draws.
  1. Learn to PLAY poker, not speak poker.
    • There is really only two areas of your game you can work on: theory, and application of that theory. Knowing all the theory in the world doesn’t mean shit unless you use it to actually play better poker.
    • The thing we want to avoid the most is being the guy in the poker forums who knows the GTO play in every hand… Is a wizard with Odds Oracle, CREV, HEM, and PokerJuice… But struggles to beat the micros (there are tons of these nowadays).
    • Personally, I pride myself on being able to pull the trigger in big spots. When I buy pieces of people in tournaments, or evaluate a caliber of player, this is all I really care about. Does he have the courage to come through in a big spot? Is he going to tilt when things go awry (they typically do)? These are the hidden areas that nobody wants to talk about, because it challenges your character. Saying you can’t play well when something important is on the line questions your core. It’s easier to focus on crunching numbers and perfecting theory, because it’s more finite and measurable. But trust me, the psyche part has massive benefits, and will open the door to actually implement the theory knowledge in heated situations.
  1. If you never get caught bluffing, you are not bluffing enough.
    • Likewise, if you never value own yourself, then you aren’t value-betting thinly enough. The value in most poker games comes from value betting, NOT bluffing. Most players like to focus on bluffing more often, but realistically they should be looking for more spots to get thinner value.
  1. Most players are straightforward on the river.
    • In both NL and PLO, ranges are least polarized on the flop, and most polarized on the river. You are significantly more likely to make money by bluffing rivers than you are by calling them. From my experience, particularly at the lower levels (but even at the higher ones), large river bets are heavily weighted towards value hands. In river bluff catching scenarios, do realize that bluffing frequencies are generally much higher IP than OOP. The most likely bluffing spot for any given player is when IP in a small or medium sized pot, while the reverse is also true; the least likely place for most players to bluff is in big reraised pots OOP.
  1. Don’t try to make people fold big hands. Profit comes from attacking your opponents air, and medium strength ranges.
    • In NL, this can be equated to trying to make someone fold an overpair on a short board. When people imagine a professional poker player, they think of constant aggression. They picture risky, highly complex all-in river bluffs with 72o for massive piles of chips. But the truth is that most “big-bluffs” are carefully planned, and typically involve more than just sheer courage. During Dan Colman’s massive tourney run last year, I had the pleasure of sweating all the live stream final tables he played. Watching him destroy the competition was both fun and educational, but you know something I noticed? Dan very rarely bluffed with napkins (postflop anyway). He never tried to make his opponent fold a big hand. When he did bluff (meaning he made a better hand fold), he always had some semi-bluff equity or other blocker variant, otherwise he surrendered pretty easily. He has mastered using selective aggression, and this is what the very best know how to do. Top players relentlessly apply pressure when they sense weakness, and cleverly sidestep dangerous spots. Every time he bluffed or made a thin aggressive play, he had 2 of the following 3 things:
      • Blockers: this could be nut blockers (Ac on Qc5c3c) or blockers to value betting hands (Q987 on AQ6).
      • Equity: (some type of pot equity greatly increases the EV of your bluffs. Especially in PLO semi-bluffing is the nuts).
      • Clear opponent read: (bet sizing tell, tendency, history)
    • Good players certainly bluff, but they rarely bluff just for the sake of bluffing. If you have 2 of the items listed above in any given hand then you have a highly profitable bluff. Only one of them and you could potentially have a good bluffing spot. None of the above, and you should probably just check/give up.

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