Listen up, live poker players!
You might technically be playing the same game as your online counterparts, but live poker is a very different animal, and it requires a very particular set of skills for success.
I’ve picked out 5 live poker-specific skills to share with you today. Some of these capitalize on common mistakes made by live players; others are known but often disregarded.
1. Smart table selection
Live poker is slow, with only 20-30 hands dealt per hour, so it’s crucial that you maximize your time spent at the casino. Table selection is one of the best ways to do so.
Good table selection depends on effective profiling. Things to look and listen for include:
- Alcoholic beverages on side tables
- Groups that have obviously come to the casino for a ‘night out’
- A noisy atmosphere coming from a specific table
Even though sitting at these tables can be taxing, since you’ll often have to tolerate drunks and slow play, it is definitely worth doing given how much bigger your edge will be.
Just as you should know when to sit down at a table, you should also know when to leave. It doesn’t make much sense financially to stay in a game with only good regulars, for example.
Of course, if you enjoy the competition there’s no harm in occasionally testing yourself against the better live players in your area, but avoid making a habit of grinding tough games.
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2. Identifying and exploiting common leaks
Not every live player is the same, but many have a surprising number of leaks in common.
There are several adjustments you can make in order to exploit these leaks. A handful of these adjustments, and the leaks they function to exploit, are listed below:
- Over-fold to river aggression
Live players are notorious for under-bluffing on the river. We can counter this tendency by folding more than normal to aggression on the river—particularly against raises.
- Attack weak checking ranges on the flop
Many live players over-value hand protection, particularly on the flop, because they fear getting drawn out on. This scared strategy is very predictable — they’ll bet when they’ve connected with the board and check when they haven’t. (Though they will usually still play in flow by checking to the raiser.)
Punishing such players is easy: turn up the aggression every time they check on the flop.
- Don’t mess with 4-bets
Many live players simply don’t have a 4-bet bluffing range; when they drop a 4-bet into the pot, you can be certain its a premium hand.
This can be exploited by making big folds against 4-bets—we can (sadly) throw hands like JJ and AQs into the muck.
There’s another counter strategy you should use whenever you have a tight 4-better at your table…
- Widen your 3-betting range
When you 3-bet with a bluff or non-premium value hand, facing a 4-bet is your worst case scenario. Your bluffs will be forced to fold, and your value hands will be in a tough spot against a big wager.
If your opponent will only 4-bet with the top 2% of hands, your worst case scenario is an unlikely one. This allows you to 3-bet with near-certainty that you will reach the flop (or win the pot right then and there). When you have a tight 4-better at your table, crush them by 3-betting with more bluffs and value hands.
Moreover, because pre-flop aggression is relatively rare in the live arena, we can also expect our 3-bet bluffs to elicit more folds.
- Use a small c-bet size
Small c-bet sizes target two leaks: passive flop play and over-folding to barrels.
Since live players generally err on the passive side, we can c-bet liberally, and with a small size, without fear of getting raised.
Additionally, using a smaller c-bet size allows you to spread your fold equity more evenly over the turn and river, since our stack-to-pot ratio will now be greater. Plus, your opponents range will be slightly weaker than if you used a larger bet size on the flop.
- Check-raise flops aggressively
Live players are very aware of how effective c-betting can be, but many go overboard and c-bet far too often. You can exploit wide c-betting ranges by check-raising aggressively and barrelling on later streets, which will put your opponent in a tough spot with most of her hands.
As with any exploitative strategy, make sure to be fluid with your adjustments depending upon the player types you run into. Check out this article for more common live poker exploits.
3. Consistently covering the fish
You should always try to cover the stacks of the weaker players at the table (unless your bankroll can’t afford it). Deeper stacks = a higher hourly win-rate (assuming you are a winning player).
Make sure you buy a pocketful of chips before you start playing so that you can top-up your stack as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Also, you shouldn’t want the weaker players to notice that you are topping up to cover them. (No one likes to feel targeted.) By having extra chips ready, you can add to your stack in a subtle way rather than calling staff over every time.
Be careful not to accidentally exceed the table limit when covering weaker players – this is known as ‘going north’ and will not be received well by others.
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4. Protecting yourself from scummy players
There will always be players that look to gain unfair edges at the live tables. They are few and far between, but it’s important you watch out for them so you don’t become the victim of an angle.
Live veteran Jimmy Fricke put together the ultimate guide to help you avoid angles. Here are 7 of the most common ones:
- Pump-faking chips or cards near the betting line to elicit a reaction
- Lying about stack size
- Saying ‘I didn’t check!’ after doing something that really looked like a check
- Making an ‘accidental’ raise on purpose
- Lying about hand strength at showdown without revealing cards
- Intentionally acting out of turn
- Sneakily taking chips from other players’ stacks
You can avoid most of these angles by acting deliberately and paying close attention to your opponents (both of which you should probably be doing anyway).
5. Staying calm, cool and collected
Poker can be aggravating, but getting angry at other players is bad for both the game and your bankroll.
Suppose an opponent makes a terrible call against you, for instance, but then gets there on the river to win a substantial pot. If you feel tempted to ridicule that player’s decision making, do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and shut your mouth instead.
We want to help maintain a positive environment where everybody is enjoying themselves. Not only are recreational players more likely to stick around this way, but it’s also just the polite and ethically right thing to do.
If you need more convincing, check out the CEO of Upswing’s article 5 Reasons to SHUT Your Big Mouth.
As the points above show, there is a lot more to live poker than just playing your cards. If you’ve got any other tips you’d like to share with fellow live players, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Note: Ready to take your poker game to the next level? Learn expert strategies from our world-class team of coaches when you join the Upswing Lab. Learn more now!
Read more from Upswing Poker based on your favorite game:
- Cash games: 4 Real-World Examples That Will Help You Overbet Better
- Tournaments: The Ultimate Guide to Big Blind Defense in Tournaments
- Live poker: The Professional Approach to Straddled and Three-Blind Pots
- All games: How the Top Pros Analyze Poker Hands in 2017