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Eye-Opening Moments From The WPT Boot Camp Champions Event
When I headed to Vegas recently for the World Poker Tour Champions Boot Camp, I figured that if I picked up just one tip to improve my game – just one thing I didn’t know before – it would be worth the trip, and a lot of money in my bankroll down the road. The up-close-and-personal face time with some of the top pros in the game, the delicious meals, the chance to ask questions with poker’s household names, and the freeroll tournaments, well, that would all be icing on the cake.
The camp schedule was comprehensive and quite ambitious, including seminars on “Taking Your Game to the Next Level” with Mike Sexton, “Sit-n-Go Strategy” with Nick Brancato, “Aggressive Postflop Poker” with Kenna James, “Building a Big Stack” with Vanessa Rousso, “Advanced Hand Reading” with poker math expert Bill Chen, the importance of stack size in tournament play with Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher, “Playing Your ‘A’ Game” with Crispin and Jules Leyser and “Turning Pro” with Lee Childs, a WPT Boot Camp graduate and WSOP Main Event final tablist.
There was also a revealing question-and-answer session with old war-horse T.J. Cloutier and hand analysis sessions with each pro in groups of ten.
And of course the cocktail hour.
What follows are some of the “ah-ha” moments for me from some of the sessions at the three-day advanced camp, which was a complete sellout (120 students). Like me at the camp, if you pick up just one seed of a poker idea that will improve your game, it will be worth it.
As you will notice when you read these highlights, there were two common threads that wove through all the presentations and discussions with the pros: You have to play the game with courage, and aggressive play pays big dividends.
Taking Your Game to the Next Level
“The No. 1 skill in poker is putting a player on a hand range,” Mike Sexton, speaking in a classroom-type setting, told our group. “When you can put someone on a range of hands, you can steal pots...What the really top players have is heart. They trust their reads and take the pot without the best cards. Being able to pull the trigger in battle without the best hand – that’s what sets these players apart. Great players aren’t afraid to play a pot. They are comfortable playing hands and like to make decisions, and going out of a tournament on a failed bluff does not bother the top pros.”
Mike said poker is all about betting, stressing over and over that players should be “bettors,” not “callers.” Betting provides that “second way to win” – getting someone to fold the best hand. Betting is where you get your advantage.
“Aggressive players have an edge in poker. Seventy percent of the time you fail to pair on the flop, and good players take advantage of this."
“Most players in tournaments are too tight, and tight players don’t win tournaments. Winners try to accumulate chips early; it’s more important than survival because most of the money in tournaments is in the top spots. You have to take some chances early and you must attack weakness.”
Online poker phenom Nick “Nicky Numbers” Brancato gave a fascinating seminar where he played an actual $100+$9 single-table tournament online (projected on a large screen) as he talked about sit-n-go strategy. “The skills you can learn playing SNGs are directly applicable to the live single-table satellites you find at all major tournaments and they will help you immensely with your final table play.”
The secret to making a lot of money playing SNGs online is volume. You can learn strategies that can become nearly automatic that allow you to play a lot of tournaments at the same time – something you have to work your way up to – and you play the percentages. You are seeking a relatively small return on your investment that when multiplied over time will yield a tidy profit for the above-average player.
Believe it or not, he said, 3 percent is considered a good ROI.
A lot of money can be made from “rakeback” which are online sites that will give you a piece of the rake you pay for each tournament. For example, for playing this tournament, Nick will be sent 27% of the $9 rake or about $2.50 at the end of the month. “This adds up extremely quickly and when you multitable it can add a ton of money to your hourly win rate,” he said. Some other tools for the player who wants to play online SNGs are tracking sites such as sharkscope.com to find out the quality of your opponents in SNG play. Another program is PokerStove, which can be downloaded free at pokerstove.com and allows you to do complex equity calculations.
Goal 1 is getting into the money, one of the top 3 spots. After that, your goal is to finish first because there is very little pay jump from third to second compared to first.
“Winning without showing down hands is key. You must know when to push, fold and call. Fold equity is huge.” Nick should know, he’s played thousands of SNGs online. “I got my start playing these little tournaments and they helped me learn some critical skills that are hugely beneficial to multitable tournaments. If you want to master short-stacked play, this is where you should practice.”
His fundamentals include never limp, be the first in the pot (and go in raising), play ultra-tight early, don’t change your preflop bet sizes based on your cards (be consistent), and if a raise or bet is going to commit nearly one-third of your chips to the pot, move all-in.
Nick recommends preflop raise amounts of two-and-a-half to three times the big blind (depending on what stage of the tournament you’re in) plus one big blind per limper. Reraises should be three times the previous total bet plus any callers.
Oh yeah, he won the tournament.
Aggressive Postflop Poker
For Kenna, it’s all about aggression, aggression and more aggression.
“Be creative. Get out there and make something happen,” he said. “Don’t depend on making a pair to win."
“Get your opponents to guess and get them to guess wrong. You can never get them to guess if you are playing ABC tight poker.”
The secrets to effective aggression are knowledge of your opponents and detaching your emotions from the result. Kenna said the way to turn yourself into a more aggressive player is to put yourself in tough spots. If you don’t like something that someone does to you, it’s probably a good thing to do to someone else.
“Aggressive players base decisions on what’s probable, not what’s possible. They don’t play scared. If it’s probable you have the best hand, you have to continue. If it’s unlikely that your opponent has a strong hand, bet or raise to make them fold. Courage comes from knowing the right thing to do.”
Aggression is all about taking control of the hand, putting the decision to your opponent and getting fold equity. You don’t have fold equity if you just call.
“Aggressive players will force you to have a hand” Kenna said.
He said aggression allows you to play weaker hands in position, and advised making the pots bigger when in position, and ending pots quickly when out of position.
“Your opponent has to know that if he is playing a pot with you, he could be playing for all his chips.”
Those are just some of the highlights of an intense weekend. When it was all over and people’s heads were exploding with new ideas, it was time for the main event, and big freeroll with the pros.
When the smoke cleared, John Kniespeck emerged the winner. He knocked out his own mother along the way; now that’s aggression! Then he walked over to The Venetian and won another tournament.
But we all won, because with some study, review and experimentation in live play, the instruction we received from these world-class players will definitely take us to the next level.