9 Eye-Opening Lessons Learned Playing the 2015 World Series of Poker

Esther Taylor James Woods Greg Raymer
Lessons everywhere at WSOP.

My poker creates as much noise as a fart in a brown paper bag.

I’m a deadbeat.

I’m someone who tried to become a professional poker player, failed, and then learned that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do in the first place.

But life turned out pretty spectacular anyway.

I ended up writing about poker instead of playing and this means the luxury of holding court with some of the greatest poker players this world has ever produced.

This year I came to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) intent on playing six or seven events.

I was backed. 50% of the profit was mine and there was no make up. The only caveat was charity work.

No problem there. I would have done it for free. He was throwing me a bone.

I caught it and then buried it with all the other skeletons I have in my closet. I played six events, made three Day 2s and cashed twice.

This is what I learned throughout my experience. I hope it teaches beginners a few new tricks.

WSOP 2015 Main Event Day 2AB 4
Watch the action, not your phone.

1. Pay Attention

Paying attention to the game was the most important modification I made.

The problem with this magnificent game is it is based on a lot of folding. This can become boring.

In a bid to remove the boredom we read books, text our friends or search through Facebook looking at the bikini shots of that same friend’s wife.

I made this adjustment in my online game to good effect. It was the first time I had brought it with me to the live game.

I watched every single hand. I tried to determine the hand ranges each person had. I turned the game into a game.

It worked for me. I am not good enough or experienced enough for this constant monitoring to become as boring as the folding that preceded it.

I will be paying attention in all of my tournaments.

The only time I didn’t pay attention was when people spoke to me.

2. I Cannot Play Poker and Talk at the Same Time

Barny Boatman
Chatterboxes unwelcome, even if funny.

The songbirds are not singing like they used to. Most grimy poker tables are coated in nimbus clouds and hold a chilly emptiness about them.

I have read how the old pros would like that silence to be permeated by conversation.

It’s not for me.

I am not rude. I am not boring. If you want to talk to me then we can do it whilst exchanging secret glances at our peckers in the urinal during break time.

But when I am playing I am concentrating. Because if I don’t then I lose.

I was fast approaching the end of Day 1A in the Monster Stack event. I had over 70,000 chips and was the chip leader at my table.

I was the meat in between two very talkative pieces of bread. At times I wanted to stick them under the grill and watch them burn. But they were also funny.

We developed a camaraderie. This was cutting-edge humor. And then my game fell apart. I didn’t have a clue what was happening.

I’m sorry; talking at the table is not for me.

3. It Sucks Balls When Your Table Breaks

WSOP Rain Delay 3
Breaking tables sucks.

Moving tables is like taking a wrecking ball to you game.

If you're paying attention, have built reads and have chosen your spots then the last thing you want is to be moved to another table.

It’s like being hit over the head by the Honky Tonk Man’s guitar.

The only saving grace is if you have someone next to you who doesn’t shut the fuck up. But better the devil you know, in my opinion.

If they're talking to you, then they will hold back in hands against you. I would rather sacrifice my eardrums for the chance to stay put.

4. Choose Your Spots

Ivey hellmuth 1 4
Clearly there are better spots.

You sit down at a poker table containing Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Ole Schemion, Dominik Nitsche and three of your mates from the local pub.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the best strategy is to play more hands with your mates.

Choosing to avoid the pros and play with your mates is choosing your spots. There are other ways to choose your spots.

Three-betting a player with a range as wide as a bowler from Kazakhstan, 3-betting a player who has a 30-35bb stack or flatting a strong hand in hopes the itchy player in the big blind will jam his last 10bb with trash are all examples of this.

I am only scratching the surface on this little beauty but there is a blossoming bounty waiting for me to dig in.

5. There's a Huge Difference Between a Pro and a Recreational Player

Funny hat guy
Gulf between pro and amateur is wide.

Obvious, I know.

But until you sit down and play with them it’s difficult to appreciate how talented some people are.

On one hand you're playing on a waterlogged pitch in Reigate; on the other the pristine holy ground of Wembley.

When it comes to poker, always go for the waterlogged pitch.

6. Ranges

Jean-Robert Bellande took the piss out of Byron Kaverman for his decision-making speed during the $500,000 Super High Roller Bowl this week.

Kaverman responded by eliminating Not-So Broke Living.

Awareness of these situations ripple towards me until a tsunami of mounting pressure crushes my skull like a tank tread.

I learned a lot about ranges during the summer. What my perceived range is and how that allows me play down the streets. And what my opponent’s perceived range is to help me do likewise.

Professional poker players don’t think about ranges.

Like a radar operator glued to the screen 12 hrs per day, five days per week, 335 days per year - they know when a blip is more likely to be a big-motherfucking-problem blip than a normal blip.

Mike McDonald
Timex stare has reason.

They don’t think, they just know.

It’s the same with poker. Repetition is the key. They have seen every move before. Ranges develop without thought.

But it’s not like that with me. I have to take my time and there are so many roadblocks in my way.

The first is time and ego. I am worried that people will think less of me if I take my time. The second is my impulsiveness. My gut says go and so I go. 

Timex was on to something when he earned his nickname. Taking those few moments to consider the range questions before making a decision is crucial.

The reason Timex did this during every hand was to create a solid habit. I am learning to do the same.

7. Blockers

This is my evolutionary journey in terms of blockers.

1. I hold JJ and someone moves all-in on a QT9 flop. I know it’s less likely that he has the nuts because I have a pair of jacks.

2. A very aggressive player three-bets off a 32bb stack in the cutoff and I raise with A5hh because I know it’s less likely that he has a premium ace-high hand because I am holding one.

And that was it. Then Jason Wheeler critiqued a hand of mine in the Casino Employees event.

I open the button holding K Q and a weak player calls in the small blind. The flop is 4 4 2 and we both check. The turn is the J. He leads for 800 and I fold.

Jason Wheeler
Jason Wheeler: Eye-opener.

Jason believed that I should bet this flop more than I check it. He then went on to say that I could have raised the turn, even jamming if stack sizes were suitable.

He made me understand that I have more Jx hands in my range than the small blind and I know this because holding K Q means it’s less likely that he is holding KJx and QJx hands.

From that moment onwards I thought about the use of blockers throughout my game. And not just for my pre-flop decisions.

8. Aggression, Aggression, Aggression

Jason Wheeler summed up my Casino Employee hands in three words - lack of aggression.

This was a problem that followed me like a bad smell for several weeks. I was so scared of losing my backer for next year that I sub-consciously pitched my goal into the ‘must cash every event’ arena.

This can quickly turn into ‘I must not be eliminated from this event,’ and then that leads to passive, defensive plays.

It’s easy to tell yourself to be more aggressive but it’s quite different when you know that decision could be your exit hand.

This is especially true when you aren’t a pro because you might not have that many tournaments left to play. But paradoxically you aren’t a pro because of this way of thinking.

Here is a hand that encapsulated the aggressive/passive nature of my game.

Blinds are 400/800 a100 when I open QTo in mid position off a stack of 50k. There is a call from a player sitting behind a 40k stack in late position.

The flop is KJ5r, I bet 2k and he calls. The turn is another king. I bet 3,750 and he raises me to 9,000.

The way this guy was playing I was sure he would three-bet me pre-flop with kings or jacks. There were no flush draws on board so the only value hand I thought he could raise with was pocket fives.

I don’t think he does this with a king, because I could easily have AK, and he can’t because he would have three-bet pre-flop. But there was a small possibility he could have a weak Kx hand.

I remembered that I had seen him make this play a few orbits earlier against the big stack at the table. He folded to a shove.

Every sinew of my body told me to shove, but I couldn’t. A conversation ensued in my mind where I kept reminding myself that if I was wrong I would be down to 10k.

I kept thinking about my backer and the need to cash.

Eventually I decided that a Kx hand would fold if I shoved, an Ax hand would also fold, as would his draws, and I still had outs if called by anything other than 55.

I moved all-in and he folded. He later told me that he had QTo.

His aggression nearly won a hand that would have been split but my aggression made sure I took it.

Jason Wheeler was in my mind throughout: “A Lack of Aggression.”

9. Learn to be an Actor

I learned this lesson from Sam Razavi and once again it showed the depth of understanding and strategy that this game contains.

Attractive female
Act, and you'll be rewarded.

I'm playing in Day 2 of the Monster Stack. It’s been a horrid first level. I have not played a single hand for 45 minutes. Matas Cimbolas is sitting to my direct right and he is controlling the table, opening most of his hands.

With blinds at 600/1200 a200 he opens the CO to 2,500. I have 60k and he has me covered.

I look to my left and there is a middle-aged lady sat in the big blind with a 16bb stack. I make it known to Matas that I am eyeing up her stack. I have K4ss and I decide to three-bet to 5,900.

The middle-aged woman jams, he folds and I call. I know what you're thinking. What a stupid call!

I know that. But here's what I learned most about the hand after speaking to Sam Razavi.

Not only was the call a dumb mathematical play but I showed the whole table that I was capable of three-betting with K4s, in particular Matas.

After being card dead for 45 mins and creating a tight image by default I was now going to get zero credit for my three-bets.

I also showed the table that I was willing to call-off 16bb with K4s and this now makes me susceptible to wider four-betting for value.

I loved what Sam said next. He said that I should have showed the middle aged lady the king, told her that we probably both had the same hand (referring to AK) and then thrown it into the muck.

This keeps my tight image intact and I can still three-bet Matas light the next time a spot opens up.

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So that’s what I've learned lately. What about you?

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