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Improve Your Poker
by Bob Ciaffone
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One of the more respected writers of this generation, Ciaffone's material, now compiled under one cover, has previously appeared in a variety of publications. Here, he helps sharpen the skills of beginners and experienced players in ten different areas, including general concepts like beating a loose game, and tight/loose play. He moves to gambling skills like the mental side, and money management; then to Reading Opponents, including tells and using your eyes. A vital section on Deception and Bluffing is followed by incisive advice on Hold'em including raising and missing.
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Poker Stars
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Poker Stars has reopened for most of the world, but not yet in the United States. It is endorsed by professionals like Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moneymaker. The site offers Texas Hold'em, Omaha, Omaha 8/b, 7 Card Stud, 7 Card Stud 8/b, Crazy Pineapple, Crazy Pineapple 8/b, Triple Draw, Royal Hold'em. Table limits range from penny games up to $300-600. The competition leans to the more challenging end of the spectrum.
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Keeping Something in Reserve

Is there a modern style of playing poker that is a big improvement upon what we pro players used to do in the past? Maybe there is a realignment in the number of people who play with a certain style,Bob CiaffoneBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play.  Bob's website is  but let's not pretend that the wheel has been reinvented. There have always been players rammin' and jammin' the pots, but perhaps more players have adopted that style today. In my opinion, some people thrive on playing that way, and others do not, so it is up to each poker player to find an approach to poker that suits him or her.

Hyperaggression has its virtues. When you do a lot of raising on the flop, you will not get drawn out on as much as if you had just called. You shut your opponent out unless he has a good hand and can take the heat. Some people regard it as the macho method, as if any other approach is unmanly. But it is not the only successful way to play no-limit hold'em. There are drawbacks to adopting a policy of raise-or-fold poker, whereby you treat most hands as raising material if they are worth playing.

Watch a real poker artist from the old school at work, such as T. J. Cloutier or Johnny Chan, and you will see that having position means you do not have to either raise or fold when the opponent bets. Poker is no picnic when your bet is called by a good player with position on you. Let's talk about some of the benefits of just calling:

1. You have invested only a small amount of chips. Raising is not only more expensive than calling, but also commits money in a different ratio to the pot size. If there is $100 in the pot and your opponent bets $100, you are getting 2-to-1 on your call. If you raise the size of the pot, you are risking $400 to win $200, so you are laying 2-to-1 instead of getting it. Naturally, your call does not win the pot and a raise might, but a call does give you a view of the landscape that might enable you to win the pot later without a lot of risk. For example, if you are trying to rob the opponent with a mediocre holding and the opponent is betting a draw, you will have a far better chance of success in taking the pot away from him on the turn, when he is down to one card to come. If it's a multiway pot when someone bets, you have not stuck your neck out in those situations in which someone has flopped a biggie behind you or was looking to check-raise.

2. You may well set your opponent up with a call. Let's look at a concrete situation. You have K-Q and enter the pot from the cutoff seat after two callers. You call, the button and small blind fold, and four of you see the flop. The board gives you top pair and the other two cards do not look dangerous, such as Q-6-2 rainbow. The first two players check and the player on your right bets close to the size of the pot. What should you do? If you raise, I can almost guarantee you that the player who bet will fold if he is beat and call or raise if he has the best hand. In other words, he will have no trouble doing the right thing. You will not make any more money if he has a weaker hand. The same cannot be said if you just call, as he may bet again with a weaker hand than yours.

3. When opponents realize that you might have a good hand and just call, you can use the call as a bluff. Hyperaggressive players do not respect a call until they see that you are using it as a weapon with a holding with which you could have raised the pot. If they have seen you use it several times, or you are a big-name player, you might get some respect with your calls. At this point, you can use the call as an offensive weapon. Someone who has raised the pot is not happy if the flop - by containing a three-flush, a three-straight, or a pair - could give someone an extremely strong holding. A call will put you in position to take the pot away from your opponent whenever he is simply probing with his bet.

4. If an opponent improves, he can be in a trap. An opponent does not always draw out when he helps his hand. Sometimes he goes from the frying pan to the fire. For example, on our flop of Q-6-2 rainbow, suppose the opponent bets and a queen hits on the turn. He may well aggressively plunge ahead if he just hit trips. So, if you have a quality hand like A-Q or pocket sixes or deuces, you can win a big pot, whereas a flop raise might have ended things.

5. You can defang a big draw by just calling and then catching a blank on the turn. Players who raise on the flop when holding only top pair with a good kicker can have a big problem when they run into a good drawing hand such as a straight-flush draw, a straight draw with two overcards, or a flush draw with two overcards. This type of hand may well make a big reraise when confronted with a flop raise. So, you will have a choice of folding or going all in, unless the money is extremely deep. If all you have is one pair, a fold is in order, as sometimes you will be even money, and other times nailed to a cross. This is a bad gambling situation for one pair. Your flop raise let the betting get away from you. It would have been better to just call, see how your opponent reacted to the turn card, and countered accordingly.

Our sample hand of Q-6-2 rainbow has no plausible draws present, but a call can also be used as a weapon when in position with a made hand when there is a draw on the board. Although you are not too pleased to allow a potential draw to come and beat you (or injure your market), your opponent is not exactly overjoyed to be acting first with potential board threats, so the sword cuts both ways. And as seen in No. 5 above, you do evade pressure from an aggressive player with a draw, as he is not going to be as enthusiastic about his holding when he has only one chance to hit it. I would like to emphasize again that a call is an effective offensive weapon only when you have position on the bettor, as your play is forced to be much more committal when having to act first.

I am not telling you to just call whenever you have position on your opponent and a good hand. In fact, if your opponent makes a small probing bet of less than half the pot size on the flop, a call is likely to be met by only another wimpy-size bet on the turn, at best, so your flop call is not going to reap a big harvest against a pussyfooter. I usually raise a microbet by an opponent if I decide to play.

My point with this article is simply that a call when in position is supposed to be another weapon in your arsenal. You can also use it with good hands. Adopting a policy of raise or fold fails to use every weapon at your disposal. Be versatile and fight with everything you've got.

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