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Spot Light :  In Conversation with  #LFGVegas2.00 winner, Sanjay ‘Werewolf’ Taneja

We are in conversation with the Mighty Werewolf, Mr Sanjay Taneja who’s been cracking every promotion on 9stacks and is a Vegas veteran. Last year, Mr Taneja crushed level 42 as part of the #LFGVegas promotion to win the trip to Vegas and then went on to smash the Uranium Stack at Level 75 to win himself a ticket to the WSOP Main Event 2018.

This year, Werewolf crushed the Aussie100 promotion and has now won the Vegas Grinder package worth 2 Lakhs after making 50,000 LFG points for #LFGVegas2.00.

Excerpts from the exclusive interview :

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Team 9stacks :  Congratulations Mr Taneja! You're the Vegas veteran. This is also the second time you'll be going to Vegas trip via #LFGVegas contest with 9stacks! How are you feeling, especially since this time WSOP will be celebrating it's 50th Anniversary?

Werewolf: Oh, I’m really excited to revisit Vegas on WSOPs’ 50Th anniversary , cant wait to see what surprises await us there. I am really kicked about participating in tthe 500$ buyin with 5 million guarantee tournament.

Team 9stacks :  How is your strategy for #LFGVegas 2.00 different from last year?

Werewolf: LFGVEGAS2.00 was a cakewalk compared to last year, and  there is a lot of action on site and players can grind on  stakes suitable to their bankroll. Last year I played on 10-20 and 25-50 tables mostly but this year point generation has  become really fast , thanks to the constant action on 100-200 and above stakes.

Team 9stacks :  For the new players joining the Vegas chase, could you give them some tips/hacks to win their trip to Vegas faster?

Werewolf: The new players may be new to the platform, but are used to playing PLO/HOLDEM, they will find it much easier to chase Vegas on 9stacks and much more rewarding since 9stacks keeps running multiple promotions simultaneously.

Team 9stacks : You've been to Vegas multiple times and would have covered a lot on your bucket list. What activities do you plan to cross off the list this time?

Werewolf : I would like to ship a big tournament this time.

Team 9stacks :You did exceedingly well at the Little One for One Drop tournament last time in WSOP 2018, which other tournaments do you want to crush this time?

Werewolf:Like I said earlier, the 500$ buyin tournament is going to be my  main focus this year. Although, I would also love to make a reattempt for the  Little One for One Drop title.

Team 9stacks : During the Vegas chase, who did you enjoy playing against the most? How was the action on the tables this time?

Werewolf: Most of the players on 9stacks have become good friends , it is great to see how hard each one is working on their game. The action is insane, kabhi kabhi aisa lagta hai ki table pe sirf apun hi machchhi hai.

Team 9stacks : You play on 9stacks regularly. Were you surprised by somebody's (newcomer or regular player) game this time? Is there a player on the platform  with a lot of promise according to you?

Werewolf: Like I said every player is working hard on their  game, I am really happy to see Sharmaji, Chocha and MohitZR giving the game their best.

Team 9stacks : Which famous players do you want to play against this time at WSOP 2019?

Werewolf :  Not star struck, but to learn from any good player on the table is a pleasure.

Team 9stacks : Which other games did you play in Vegas last year?

Werewolf:  Oh, last year, I was really LUCKY on slot machines. Most of the times if I busted the tournament early, I’d run to the slot machines in  distress and sure enough, the machines would reward me graciously , throwing back most of my lost buyins, in no time! ☺

Team 9stacks: What activities do you recommend (apart from poker ofcourse) , for the all the winners of the Vegas challenge to do, during their stay in Las Vegas.

Werewolf : Go to the shooting ranges, ride some Ferraris , see some of the most world renowned shows , do a lot of shopping at the north and south outlet malls if looking for good deals on big brands or just chill on the strip and Fremont street area in downtown Vegas.


Here’s wishing the Werewolf the best for all the other milestones available on the #LFGVegas2.00 board!

Team 9stacks

An Introduction to Game Theory in Poker

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A quick look up on the internet, gives us the definition of Game Theory as:

The branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant's choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants. 

Having a game theory optimal (GTO) strategy means that we find the best solution for our situation irrespective of what our opponent does. A standard example is the Prisoner's Dilemma. Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry and a YouTube video if you didn't know about this already.

What does GTO mean in poker?

Being a good poker player means making the best decisions based on the incomplete information you have. To bridge this very chasm between incomplete information and the best decision, we take the help of game theory. Just like in the Prisoner's Dilemma, we do not know what the opponent's strategy is. So we make the most optimal game theory decision in a vacuum. Then, as we gain more information about an opponent, we adjust your strategy based on this new information.

Two Examples:

1. Bet Size
On the flop, your opponent bets 1/3rd pot. What do you do with middle pair? Most likely, you would call. What if he makes it 1/2 pot? Or 3/4 pot? Or 2x pot? 4x pot? At what point do you decide that you won't call this bet?

As your opponent's bet size increases, the odds that you get become worse. In order to not get exploited, we have to start letting go of some hands. So we start folding our weak pairs, then middle pairs good kickers, then middle pairs strong kickers, and sometimes even top pairs with weak-medium kickers.

2. Bluff catching
Similar logic goes into bluff catching. For example, say you have JTo and board runs out Jack high - you have top pair medium kicker. Your opponent, whom you don't know anything about, bets big all three streets. What do you do? If you always call down with just a top pair, you will be often up against QQ+ or better top pairs. If you always fold, you open yourself up to getting bluffed. To find a balance, we use a GTO approach.

As we move from flop to turn and to the river, we start folding the bottom of our range. This means that out of all the hands that we could have in this spot, we start folding the worst ones. If we find ourselves here with top pairs often, we start folding the ones with the worst kickers. If we call with every Jack on the flop, we fold some like J9, JT on the turn. On the river, since we arrive with QJ+, we have to fold some of these and call with some. So we can fold the worst Jacks - QJ, KJ and call down with AJ.

In the first example, we did not know what our opponent bet-sizes meant. In the second, we do not know when our opponent is bluffing or when he is value-betting. Hence we chose a strategy that allows us to make the best decision no matter what he does. Does it mean that we will win every pot? No. But it does mean that in the long run, after playing thousands of hands, and facing the same situations many times, the summation of all our decisions will come out to be a profitable number.

How does GTO compare with Exploitative strategy?

Exploitative strategy means that when you have absolute reads on your opponents, you deviate from the GTO approach to make the best decision in that particular instance. For example, if you know that the villain never bluffs when he bets big all three streets, but you are at the top of your range, it maybe a fine GTO call, but you can make an exploitative fold knowing that you are always beat.

No single strategy is better than the other. Usually a combination of both is the way to go - because even though GTO style is profitable, mixing it with exploitative might be even more profitable. This is especially true when you are playing against weaker opponents. They have certain tendencies and leaks that are better suited for an exploitative style of play. But against stronger opponents, who have fewer obvious leaks, a GTO style is much more favorable.

As the poker software and poker AI has become better, more and more players are employing a GTO approach, especially when the stakes are high and the competition is good. But since no player is playing a perfectly GTO strategy, adding an exploitative style to your game is a good idea.

Hopefully, this primer was useful and may it help you make more profitable decisions in the future. And next time try employing this strategy in any one aspect of your game - value-betting, check-raising, bluffing etc. 

Cheers,

Mayank

This article was written by Mayank Jain. Mayank is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at http://mayankja.in/ on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.

A Beginner's Guide to Hand Reading

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Hand reading is a poker skill that basically allows you to predict and correctly assign a range of hands  that your opponents might have at the poker table.

This is a very important skill which helps you make better decisions, and of course, make more money in the game.

Given the fact that it such an important aspect of poker, hand reading is a complex topic which players keep working at throughout their career.

In this post, we'll try and simplify this topic for people new to the game.

A word of caution - like everything in poker, hand reading is extremely player dependent. If you have played with an opponent for a long time and know his common tendencies, then go with that read. But if you are playing against an unknown, or you are unsure about a spot, then revert back to these basics.

1. Pre Flop Action

Entering the pot pre flop by raising, instead of limping is a proven profitable strategy.

If your opponent deviates from this by limping in, what does this tell you?

It tells you that they don't have premium hands like AA, KK, QQ or strong aces like AK or AQ. 

What do they have instead?

Suited connectors and gappers, broadways, weak Aces, Kings and Queens, sometimes even complete garbage - hands that they want to see a cheap flop with.

Essentially, this tells us that their range is wide and is devoid of the topmost hand categories.

Caveat: However, some tricky players might like to trap with premium hands pre-flop. More often than not, they are hoping that someone raises over their limp, and then they can reraise when the action comes back to them.

2. Bet Sizing

Weak players give away the strength of their hand based on their bet size. Their bet size is directly proportional to the strength of their hand.

The way to exploit this strategy is by folding more when they bet bigger, and calling/raising more when they bet smaller. To ensure that we don't make the same mistake, our bet size should be based on the range of hands that we can have, and not on our exact hand.  

There is also a segment of players who employ a complete opposite strategy - betting small when they are strong, and betting big when they are weak.

This is not a strategy we would ever recommend,because what you are doing here is essentially making less money when you have a strong hand and losing more when you bluff. 

3. Timing Tells

The amount of time a player takes to call a bet is a reliable source of information.

If a player calls a bet quickly, this means that they have a hand which doesn't require too much thinking - medium strength hands (like second pairs) and draws.

Think about it this way, if you had a very strong or very weak hand, you would at least take a few seconds to consider whether to raise or not (either to extract value or bluff out better hands).

When your opponents snap call your bets, it allows you to exploit them by applying pressure on some turns and rivers and forcing them to fold their medium strength hands.

4. Player Type

The hands a player can have in a spot changes based on his type.

  • Loose-Passive - They play a lot of hands by calling instead of raising. This makes their range wide and allows us to value bet more hands.
  • Loose-Aggressive - They play a lot of hands by raising. Their range is still wide and we can bluff-catch and trap with more hands. They'll make more betting mistakes than calling mistakes.
  • Tight-Aggressive - This is the default play of a good player. Their range is narrow and we have to be careful with the hands that we chose to play because they will regularly apply pressure and will show up with the goods quite often.
  • Tight-Passive or Nits - They play very few hands and do so by calling instead of raising. We should bluff-catch less and value bet only strong portions of our range.

5. Meta-Game

Good player not only play a good strategy, they also try to get into the head of their opponents.

  • Level 1 thinking - what do I have.
  • Level 2 thinking - what does my opponent have.
  • Level 3 - what does my opponent think I have.
  • And so on.....

We always want to be one level ahead of our opponents. Against most players, Level 3 is a good place to be. If we are facing a good thinking player, we might have to go further into this meta-game. 

Hand reading is an ever evolving topic that cannot be covered in a single post.

What I have given you here are some of the basics that should come in handy.

If you find this useful and feel that you are making better decisions, let us know in the comments below. And maybe we'll do a series of these. 

Cheers,

Mayank

This article was written by Mayank Jain. Mayank is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at http://mayankja.in/ on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.

Maidumji's Poker Chronicles- Part 2

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Hello again, my poker peeps!

Maidumji brings you more observations from the poker table and is here to spill the beans on the different kinds of players I have encountered so far. Now I don’t know if technical terms exist for these kinds of players, but I am sharing what I saw for myself. 

So here’s meeting maidumji’s poker rivals, up close and personal!
 
    The Photo Card Slave – There are 2 people I have played with frequently, and by God, give them a photo card (even if accompanied by a 2) and they are truly married and off on their honeymoon with that card. No matter what the bets, no matter how many players claiming the pot, they CANNOT put a King down. Sometimes they get lucky and hit their pair, but mostly, they give you a lot of money!

    The Tight Mr. Right – I would like to become one and God knows I try! But these are people who are patiently waiting for premium hands and refuse to give in to any bets unless they have AA, KK, AK and only sometimes, QQ. Nothing less works for them but the good thing is, when they re-raise you, promptly fold, yes, even a 10-10 is a FOLD because they have a seriously good hand up their sleeve!

    The Aggressive Killljoy – This is the kind of player who is fearless, will raise on any 2 cards, or call on any 2. Sometimes I think they do it just to mess with your head and sometimes I feel like shoving them off the table with an all-in. Seriously, either you play or I play,  because playing with them is a pain! But hey, no points for guessing, they are my least favourite players to indulge!

    The Newbie – These are the cute ones who are learning the ropes of the game and I call them cute because so many times, they don’t even know the strength of their own hand and end up fooling others by their small/lack of appropriate raises. Sure they make a lot of money this way, and end up giving a lot too!

    The Chronic Crybaby – Hates when he loses, whines about it for minutes after, and also lectures you on why you shouldn’t have called his bet. Seriously, grow up already, and learn to take it on the chin!

    The SHARK  - Ohh this is the real deal, peeps. The kind of players who are completely unpredictable, and the scariest thing is, they have such a good read on people that they adapt their game effortlessly based on who they are up against. I am sure I am their favourite bait, because I am more transparent than a glass door, and most predictable in the way I play the game. I prefer when they bully me and make me fold, but no, they are smart enough to make just the kind of bet you would call, thereby extracting the maximum they can from a hand.

    The Clueless  - I don’t know what name to give to this variety of poker players, but I think they end up on a poker table by sheer accident.  They don’t seem to know the game at all, and just sit there going with the flow, serious! They just do what the instructions say, so they check  when the prompt asks them to check, and if there is a bet, they call. If they hit something, good for them, and if not, so be it!

    The Position Ranger – Arre, now this dude will take his “position” very seriously and raise, even with a 3 and 5. Works for me, because I know it is compulsive and at least 50 percent of the time, will work in my favour! Also, they are smart enough to recognize spots for stealing the blinds. Now that is one skill I would love to master!

    The Math Geek – The almighty knows what they eat, but they talk about pot odds and 3x raises as “appropriate” based on position and number of blinds left, like they were reading from a teleprompter.  Makes me think of Sheldon Cooper from the big bang theory and never fails to amuse me!

    Mister All-In: the guy who will always go all-in when he's down to say his last 5 big blinds, regardless of the cards he's holding. I almost always call these guys blah blah.. and especially so if it's a tournament that allows rebuys, because all Mister All-In wants to do is finish his stack and buy in again - there, I helped him out of his misery! Aren't I kind?


    And finally, the best of all – The smart players, the women – Because there are so few of us right now,, I totally believe we deserve our own category.  We root for each other, indulge in fun banter  while winning away chips from other players in what is mostly considered a man’s game!
 
What do you think? What kind of players have you encountered at the table? Hit the comment space!
 
Next time, I am going to tell you about all the poker table conversations I hear and am sometimes a part of.  Quite a bit of learning there too!
 
And as always, see you at the table!
 
Cheers,
Maidumji
 

Fitness and Poker

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I am writing this article after finishing a short yet high intensity full body workout. Tomorrow, I have upper body stretches lined up. And at least three times a week, I meditate for 15 minutes. These activities are new additions in my schedule and they've had a tangible impact in my game. Allow me to explain how using tournament poker as an example.

The nature of tournament poker is such that most of the money is at the top. The top-heavy structure means that you need to play your best when you are close to the finish line - the final table. But this stage of the tournament is preceded by long early and middle stages. The mental fatigue caused by playing for 7-8 hours, multi-tabling and making multiple decisions every minute can compromise your performance in the late stages.

The best players are the ones who can resist this fatigue and focus for a long stretch of time. The first step towards that is caring for your body. Imagine making a big decision on the final table while you struggle with back pain. Or pondering on making a big hero call when your head hurts with exhaustion.

The importance of physical fitness in a mind sport like Poker may not seem obvious at first. I want to draw parallels with other another sport I love - Snooker. It doesn't require too much physical exertion either. But you would find that the best players spend ample time in the gym. One of the legends of the game, Ronnie O' Sullivan, in fact has a book titled Running in which he explains how running has helped his game.

In the early stages of your poker career, the effects of a fit body may not seem that great. It is natural: Early in the career, you have a lot to learn; that learning alone improves your game by leaps and bounds. And the effects of exercise seem minuscule in comparison. But the story is different as you climb the ladder.

At the top, the differences between the top players are very small - as it happens in each sport. That's why you see players investing a lot more of their time on mental and physical fitness; they want to capitalize on every edge they can. Even a 5% fitter version of you can mean big money at those stakes.

Fitness is even more important if you are a traveling live tournament poker player. Constant travel, hotel food, time zone changes - to play your best in spite of these issues, you need to be fit. Or perhaps you are a cash games player. Even in this format, 12-14 hour sessions aren't unheard of. To be able to focus on each hand, pick up on opponent's tendencies, and play your A-game requires a fit state of mind and body.

Our mind's faculties will stay sharp only if the body says it is fine. Regular exercise, healthy eating, meditation are some of the things I'd recommend. Two of the apps I use for mental fitness are Primed Mind and Insight Timer. For physical fitness, a trainer who can give you a plan for your specific needs would be good. Work on your body and prepare it to be in a good shape when you need it the most. And hopefully, next time you are on the final table, you can seamlessly move up a gear to be the best player you can be.

Cheers!

Mayank

This article was written by Mayank Jain. Mayank is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at http://mayankja.in/ on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.

Ego Is The Enemy - Applications in Poker

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Ego is the Enemy is a highly acclaimed book by Ryan Holiday. It talks about how our ego often leads us on the wrong path in our pursuit of success. While reading the book, I couldn't help but notice its implications in poker. Allow me to start with a recent personal experience.

A few weeks ago, I was running deep in a live tournament. I busted on the final table after losing a flip. The guy who busted me wasn't someone I knew, but during the course of the day, we had developed a less than cordial relationship because of a few altercations. Later, we did shake hands and put it away as water under the bridge. 

Fast forward to yesterday when I found him on my table again in an online tournament. The first hand I played against him, he cracked my Aces. That hurt. Immediately, I felt a surge of emotions, clouding the logical part of my brain. I sensed an irrational desire to outplay him. And a few hands later, I busted against the same guy after making a sub-optimal play. I went on tilt and played worse for a couple of hours after that.

What happened here is a classic case of letting your ego guide your decisions rather than your poker knowledge. It is perhaps the most common mental game leak. I've been on the other side of this situation too when my opponents are not able to adapt to my playing style, and they go on tilt and give all their chips away. Their ego told them to fight to defeat me, instead of defeating my play. This led to bad decisions and a negative output for them.

It often happens that you end up playing more hands against a specific opponent. You think he is playing bad but getting lucky. Perhaps he is 3-betting every time you raise. Or maybe he is calling with all his gutshots even after getting bad odds and getting there. It makes you tensed up. You berate him in the chat box and you want to punish him. But how do you go about that?

The most common response I've seen from players is that they start becoming more aggressive, which ends up hurting them even more. Or they become too passive, waiting to trap with their most premium hands. None of these strategies is correct. The right approach would be to stick to your fundamentals. So, if your opponent is 3-betting you light, then you can tighten your opening range so that you can defend his 3-bet more often with a stronger range. If he calls with bad odds, then punish him by increasing your bet size, perhaps even overbetting flops/turns.

We chose a fundamentally sound counter-strategy which will give us the best chance of defeating our opponent. By separating the play from the player, we could identify the correct course of action.

This is what I mean by saying that ego is the enemy. Detach your ego from the results. It is fine if you are not able to defeat a particular player. Perhaps he is getting lucky, or he is playing better. If his play makes you feel awkward, then kudos to him. He shouldn't be expected to play in a style which makes you feel comfortable. Whatever be the case, you have the right strategy to deal with it - playing solid fundamental poker.

See you around,

Cheers,

Mayank

This article was written by Mayank Jain. Mayank is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at http://mayankja.in/ on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.