Saturday, November 22, 2008

A new way to play, revealed

Have you seen Gus Hansen playing poker on TV? If so, you've probably seen him stand up from the table and talk into a gizmo that is a tape recorder. I always assumed he did it to review the hands later. Well, maybe, but there was another reason. Hansen won the Aussie Millions last January. There were 746 runners, and it lasted five days. He has a new book, Every Hand Revealed, in which he recounts all 329 hands he played. He doesn't pull any punches. By that I mean that occasionally he'd make a dumb play. but wasn't afraid to admit it in the book.

Each of days one through four is a separate chapter. He divided the fifth day into three chapters: one for the final table, one for when the play was three-handed and one chapter for when the play was heads-up. The book is not for the beginning poker player, but can be enjoyed by the advancing player on up to the poker expert.

Would you enter a pot from middle position with Q 7 offsuit? Would you enter with a raise three times the big blind? Hansen makes moves like this. He isn't afraid to put his chips out there, because he feels he can outplay the others after the flop. I've heard him say on TV that you can win with any two cards. Now there's something that can't be denied.

Even though I'm not comfortable playing like that, I see his reasoning. If you wait for the nuts, you will eventually bleed to death. Even if you wait and catch pocket aces, you may get no action or get them cracked. With the way Hansen plays, he wins so many small pots that he can afford an occasional suck-out by the villain. Also, because he plays so loose (as defined by others), when he catches a huge hand, he often gets action and wins big pots with those hands.

On day three, players were assigned to six-person tables. Here's what Hansen says:

"Somebody once said, 'Patience is a virtue' and I'm sure he was right. All I know is he definitely wasn't talking about short-handed tournament poker. In a nine-handed game, patient hand selection is a very reasonable approach, but ... comes up a bit short when we are down to six players. Six-handed is a brute-force environment where aggression and constant pressure is the nature of the beast.

"It should be obvious that I bring a totally different approach to the table depending on how many chairs are left. You need to adjust.

Here's what "The Great Dane" (his nickname) says when faced with an all-in.

"First thing to do -- unless it is a completely obvious call -- is to figure out the pot odds. Second, consider the range of hands you think your opponent might have. Third, make an estimate of how well your own hand will fare against your opponent's various holdings. Fourth, mix all three together, add in your read, and do something!"

More wisdom from Hansen:

"Probably the most common mistake in poker is the 'check to the raiser.' I have to admit that I'm guilty too. It is so ingrained in the poker culture, but let me warn you it is bad poker. Here is a list of some of the downsides:
1. You give away the initiative.
2. You gain no information.
3. You give away free cards.
4. You over-commit yourself when check-raising."

As I read the book, I noticed that Hansen made several good/winning bets based on his reads from the villain's demeanor. But, he is basically math oriented.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to diminish the conventional over-the-table reading ability. I actually believe it played a big part of my success Down Under. I am just stating the obvious: 'Reads are imperfect and numbers don't lie.'

So, go ahead and buy the book, but be warned: For it to help your game, you're going to have to keep a very open mind!

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