Note: The following lecture was the 13th Tuesday Session, held December 22, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Classroom Lectures: Huge Poker Profit from Small Advantages
On the northeast corner of Main and Broadway, in a galaxy far, far away, is a store named Pete’s Poker Trinkets. Prices range from $1 to $10. Since most customers buy more than one trinket, the average sale is $17.42, and the average profit above cost and expenses for each sale is $3.03. (By the way, the quality of the trinkets is surprisingly good, and I am recommending Pete’s Poker Trinkets to my readers.)
For years, there was one poker item for sale at Pete’s that had a higher price. It was a set of solid gold poker chips the owner Paul (who had named the store after Pete, his parrot) once purchased from a homeless sailor for $10,000. Paul was asking $15,000 for the poker chips. A year went by, then two, then five. Nobody bought the gold chips.
Finally one day the richest man on the planet walked into the store. He didn’t buy the gold chips either. So, more years passed. Then a frail little boy came to shop after school, hand in hand with his matronly mother.
“Mommy, buy me those chips, please,” said the frail little boy.
“But, honey,” consoled his matronly mother, “you know I don’t have $15,000. Remember, we talked about how we would have to budget more sensibly since your wonderful father passed on.”
“Can’t you just look in your purse and see? Maybe you’ve got more money than you think.”
“Don’t be silly, darling. You know Mommy doesn’t carry fifteen thousand dollars around in her purse.” But just to humor her beloved, fatherless son, she dumped the entire contents of her purse on the countertop, separated the money from her hairbrush, chewing gum, and condoms and began counting.
Finally, she shook her head and said, “See, honey. I told you we don’t have enough money. I only have fourteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety-two dollars.”
Watching this, the owner Paul – being a shrewd businessman and not wanting to see all this money leave his store – steps up and says, “Ma’am, let me make a suggestion. You obviously are eight dollars short of the fifteen grand you need for the poker chips, but we have some really nice decks of cards for a dollar each.”
The mother examines the decks and offers to buy three for 90 cents each, which the owner quickly accepts, wisely knowing that he could net a profit of 18 cents.
So, one more day passed and then, by golly, the owner finally did sell his gold chips for $15,000 to the homeless sailor who had originally owned them. On that night, his wife said, “Let’s celebrate! You made a big profit today.”
And then Paul said something I will never forget (which is all the more remarkable when you consider that I wasn’t even there to hear it). Paul said to his wife, “It isn’t one big sale that keeps us in business. It’s all the little sales. When you add them all together, they have made us rich. There are so many small sales and so few big ones that the small sales are much more profitable.”
His wife smiled faintly and nodded in agreement. Suddenly, she understood this. And, if you want to maximize your poker profit, you need to understand it, too.
The title of today’s lecture is…
“Small Edges that Add Up”
Opportunities for big edges during the play of a hand are relatively rare.
The chance to earn a full extra bet through expert play only happens once or twice an hour – or even less! The opportunity to snare a whole pot through expert play may only happen once in a session. Those are big edges. Moderate edges are also not as common as many players suppose. But small edges are very common, and these small “expert decisions” are often more profitable on a per-hour basis than the major ones. After all, 30 small, $1 edges are worth more than two large $10 edges.
A major advantage I have in a poker game is that I can often open or raise the blinds with hands that seem too weak for my position. Remember, the fewer players that remain to act behind you, the less strict your opening standards need to be. For instance, in a particular hold ’em game, I might estimate that I need at least a king-jack of mixed suits to raise from three seats before the dealer position. Fine. But if I’m four seats before the dealer position, this same hand is not quite profitable. Then what?
Well, then I’ll need to pass. But, wait! What if I can eliminate a player as a possible contestant? Now, I’m more or less (but not exactly for technical reasons you don’t need to worry about today) in the position I need to be to raise. That’s a small edge.
Sometimes I am able to eliminate two or three (and rarely more) players by watching them before they act. This allows me to earn a profit by raising the blinds or opening the betting with hands I could not otherwise have played. Sometimes the tells are not strong, but I reason that two half tells are worth one whole player missing.
Among other things, players are likely to fold if they’re (1) Staring at chips, (2) reaching for chips, (3) staring at cards, or (4) conspicuously watching you. They are likely to play if they’re (1) Ignoring chips, (2) ignoring cards, (3) staring away, or (4) especially quiet or still.
Wait to rebuy.
Don’t buy more chips if you have just enough to take the blinds or even a little extra. You’ll maximize profit by playing short money and seeing the showdown without being eliminated through betting.
Yes, there can be power in having enough chips to cover all bets. The stronger a player you are relative to your competition, the more you should tend to keep a lot of chips on the table. However, there is also power in having short stacks and in being able to go all-in. Often this can save you a pot you would have otherwise lost. When you fold a hand, you will never win the pot. But if you’re all in with a hand you would have folded, you will sometimes win the pot. That’s the power of short money, and one time this advantage really comes into play is when you’re about to take the blinds. Therefore, it’s often better to wait until after your blinds before rebuying.
Earning that call.
An exaggerated betting motion and chips splashed or spread chaotically will increase your chances of being called. Using this method, you can even bet some hands for value that would otherwise be slightly unprofitable. It’s another small edge!
Never forget that most opponents come with a bias toward calling. Anything you do that makes them suspicious increases your chance of being called. Therefore, against most opponents, when you know you have the better hand, a flashy or noisy wager is more likely to earn a call than a calm and quiet one.
Did the hand begin short handed?
If a hand starts shorted handed, you don’t need as much strength to raise in the same position as you do if the hand starts full and becomes shorthanded. That’s because players who voluntarily pass can be assumed more likely to have folded weak cards than strong ones. On average, this leaves strength among remaining players. I call this the bunching factor. When the deal begins short handed, this factor is not in play.
A better seat.
If you’re in a good game, but opponents have seen you lose and are inspired, you can sometimes “correct” your image simply by changing seats and announcing that you feel confident in your new chair. This has nothing to do with superstition on your part – maybe on theirs.
“He who hesitates is lost” applies to poker. Don’t hesitate when you call and are worried about an overcall. And generally don’t hesitate when you bluff. Opponents tend to interpret hesitation as uncertainty, and they are more likely to call. — MC