Doyle Brunson ruined my game. I was playing pretty decent poker, placing in the top third in tournaments, until I read his book, "Super System: A Course in Power Poker". After I read the book, the wheels came off! The word DONKEY in flashing neon appeared on my forehead. I've never busted out so early, so often and on such garbage cards! Doyle's "I'm an action man", loose aggressive style really messed with my head and my game. I swear - that man plays anything!
After I started the UMichiganPoker.com web site and playing in more tournaments, I decided I needed some strategy. I checked out book recommendations at live tournaments, on the 2+2 forums, and on Amazon. After a little research, I had a list of "must read" poker books.
The first book I read was Phil Helmuth's "Play Poker Like the Pros". He had a simple strategy for beginner tournament players - play the "Phil's NLH Fifteen" and fold any other cards. I started following Phils advice in tournaments and started having some success! Phil also had some great advice on how to trap with AA and KK instead of just going all in and hoping for that rare call. The Three theories on how to play pocket 22 to 88 and AQ gave me a lot to think about. I'm still really bad at "Phil's Game" - Guess your Opponent's Exact Two Hole Cards. I'll have to consult the psychic hotline on this one, because other than guessing high pair, low pair, high cards, draw - I'm terrible at guessing the exact two cards. After reading his book, I still don't play poker like a pro - though I'm a lot better at choosing starting hands and more aware of my opponents hole cards.
After my lessons with Phil and playing in a couple tournaments with my new, tighter starting hands it was time to go back to school. At one of our home games, everyone started talking about tells. One of the home game players had an obvious tell that another player politely pointed out after taking down a big pot. I was as stunned as the player with the tell! I certainly didn't notice his tell because I was so busy paying attention to the flop and trying to figure out my opponents "Exact Two Hole Cards". Once it was mentioned, the tell was obvious - even to me, the oblivious one. It was time for "Caro's Book of Poker Tells".
Caro's book was a lot of fun! When the text got boring, the photos were a riot! During the next tournament, I saw a lot of the tells described in the book. The most common one was glancing at chips once a player looked at his/her hand. I could tell which players were going to enter the pot and which ones were going to fold before it was their turn. (The chip-glancers pushed chips in the pot every time! ). Another great tip from Caro was to watch your opponents face during the flop. The cards will be there for the rest of the hand - your opponents expression after the flop is fleeting. There were hands I knew I was going to win right away, and hands I knew I needed to lay down. About an hour into my next tournament, I picked up on another opponent's tell. My opponent was a very tall man who put his bet further out on the table the stronger his hand. His speech and inflection were confident and determined no matter where the chips were set. We were in a pot together and he put his bet in the center of the table. I folded my pocket fives and he disappointedly flashed pocket kings. A couple hands later the two of us were in a pot together. He must have been on a draw and made a continuation bet about a foot in front of him. I hit trips, but wanted to maximize my chip-ertunity. I took my time and called - trying to show weakness too. After a blank on the turn, he bet again, I called again. The river was another unmatched low card. He checked and I bet half his stack. He called saying I wasn't going to bluff him out of the pot. I ended up taking first at that tournament. I felt like Caro had given me the key to the kingdom! What a great book!
The next tournament started out great. There was a guy who made it clear that he didn't want to play poker with a woman. He tried to get the other guys to join in ribbing me. They didn't want any part of his game - true gentlemen! A couple hands into the tournament I noticed rude guy staring at me as the flop fell. I was trying to get a read on him through the sunglasses at the flop. The next time we're in a pot together, same thing - we end up in a stare-down waiting for the other person to look at the flop. Finally I winked at him. The guy went on tilt. He called my ever increasing bets to the end and I took a bunch of his chips. He went all-in the next two hands and busted out. I played on for a while and went out in eighteenth place, finding myself short-stacked and desperate for a couple double-ups. I was getting the cards, but not collecting enough chips to make it to the final table. Time for more homework.
This is when I picked up Doyle Brunson's super thick, super heavy, "Super System". Again, when the text got a little dry, the photos were good for a laugh. A few pages into the No Limit section, I found I was playing the game all wrong. I was folding those low suited connectors - Doyle raises them. I was folding when my opponents raised in front of me and I had pocket threes. Doyle raises them. Doyle is an "action man" who will win ten pots where nobody has a big hand, then he "can afford to take 2 to 1 the worst of it an play a huge pot." He already got that pot paid with all the small pots he picked up. Doyle plays pots when he knows he has the worst had. In the book, Doyle plays a very loose, very aggressive game. I wasn't sure if I could be that aggressive and play that many hands, but I would give it a try in my next tournament.
The day of the next tournament, I re-read some key passages of Doyle's book - ready to incorporate some aggressive moves into my game. I took down a couple small pots early. Things seemed to be going pretty well early on - I was in a lot more hands, with a lot more of my chips in the pot. All of a sudden - I was out. Stunned and confused, I went home to analyze my early and sudden loss.
I couldn't get Doyle's loose aggressive style out of my head. I wanted to play connecters - suited or not. Online I busted out early. In our home game - busted out first or second all night. If there was a game, I was busting out in the first third. I couldn't figure out how Doyle could be so successful and I could be so rotten (OK - he IS a poker Pro and I am a beginner). Finally I said ENOUGH! Get Doyle out of your head! I taped a notecard to my computer that said: Don't play crap cards! Stop chasing (unless its cheap)! Slowly, I started losing less often. That's also when I cracked open "Harrington on Hold'Em".
Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie methodically showed me the errors of my ways. I regained confidence of when to fold, check and raise. I also learned the power of a continuation bet, a poke bet, and the texture of the flop. Pot odds and "M" were also new concepts that helped me get a good grasp on the game. Dan and Bill did a great job explaining post flop betting and the reasoning behind the bets. I love the hand examples in the book along with the explainations. Because it's a three volume set, Harrington and Robertie's books are a long slow read, but well worth the time and effort! We played a heads-up tournament in our last home game. I did pretty well. After the heads-up tournament, we played a couple traditional tournaments - again a respectable showing.
Texas Hold'em is like learning about computers. For each thing I learn, there are five new things I need to learn. My knowledge of the game is growing incrementally while my knowledge of my ignorance is growing exponentially.
As I was flipping through the books again, I noticed an important detail that I overlooked or just ignored the first time through. Doyle was commenting on Cash No Limit Games, not tournaments in Super System. He has a short section in the beginning of the book addressing changes to his game when he is in a tournament. Doyle also tightens up his game for tournament play! He puts the "action man" on hold until the final table. Doyle is a smart, aggressive and shrewd player with a lot of wisdom and experience to share. Here are some of my favorite gems from Super System:
Be highly competitive...but do it with class. (p47)
I want to put my opponent to a decision for all his chips. (p442)
Always remember...No-Limit Hold'em is a game of position - and people. (p444)
You can't play winning Poker by playing safe all the time. You must take chances... gamble. And you have to feel aggressive to play aggressively. (p458)
The important thing to remember is that anytime there's a possible draw on the Flop: you should almost never check - you should almost always bet. (p477)
By Michele Ingalls