Wednesday, May 21, 2008


A blonde moment at the Empire

The Empire Casino is probably my favourite place to play poker in London. It has a good mix of players - Less dickhead cityboys and WPT wannabes than the Gutshot and less grumpy old men than the Vic. Plus it's pretty central, which is always a bonus.

Usually there is a wide variety of the standard of play. Ranging from the sublime, the the SAG (sick Asian gambler) to to the ridiculous (people who don't know the rules of poker). Of course at the weekend the casino gets packed, you are more likely get the latter.

One Friday night at the £1/£2 cash table there was the usual mix of regulars, internet kids and tourists grinding it away. The time charge for the table is £6 per hour and it's a self deal table so progress can sometimes be slow. Things perk up when a very scantily clad blonde girl walks up to the table and coquettishly asks "Hey boys, can I play with you?"

Of course, this perks the table up no end because the girl is extremely good looking and it becomes immediately apparent she has no idea how to play poker. Jackpot!

We play for about ten hands, and after winning a small pot early (to much congratulations from the table), she's called off all of her money. After several consolations of "unlucky love" from the table, she reloads - much to their delight. Of course, the same happens again - her stack dwindles down and she ends up calling the rest off with fourth pair against a young nervous looking Asian guy who flopped a set and ended up raking in a pot of about £120.

Now this is where the fun begins. The femme-fish looks in her purse and discovers she's out of cash. Fixing the winner of the previous pot with her best flirty look, she says "Could you lend me some of my money back so I can carry on playing?", battering her eyelashes and smiling for effect.

Now dear reader, the cold hearted poker machine that I am, I'd like to think that I would be able to resist the financial advances of this admittedly attractive lady - but this slightly nervous Asian kid looked like a rabbit in the headlights and didn't really stand a chance. Soon, and perhaps inevitably, he passed four £5 chips across the table to her.

It was at this moment that the Poker Room manager chose to come over to our table and ask for the £6 table charge. The usual grumbling ensued but everyone put in their six quid until it came to the blonde girl, who protested that she only had £20 and hadn't even won anything. But the Poker Room manager at the Empire has a heart of steel beneath his brown suit and was not to be denied.

After two or three minutes of begging and pleading the blonde girl soon realised that her feminine wiles could not charm and conquer casino charges. And with that she put on her jacket, picked up her bag and stomped (as much as you can stomp in 4" stilletos) out of the poker room. Of course she took the four £5 chips with her, before our money lender had the chance to protest, leaving him open mouthed and shaking his head ruefully.

"I've always said women are the rake of life" quipped a grizzled older man sitting to my left, his tone and weathered face suggesting he was speaking from bitter experience.

"Lol Blondaments" I replied.

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Known poker players that I've played with
Julian Thew
Joe Grech
Jen Mason
Leif Force

Known poker players I've met or got their autograph
Hoyt Corkins
Gus Hansen

Known poker players I've uriniated in an adjacent urinal to at the Vic
Neil Channing
John Duthie
Ben Roberts

Known poker players I've spilt a drink all over
Micky Wernick

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Using the weak lead with a monster

What do you do when you flop a monster? It’s always a nice problem to have in a no limit holdem tournament! With blinds constantly rising, opportunities don’t come along often, so when you’ve flopped a big hand, you should always think about how you can extract the maximum value from it.

The weak lead is a play you can add to your repertoire and use as an extra way to get chips from your opponents.

What is the weak lead?

The weak lead (often called a ‘donk bet’ on many websites and online forums), is a small opening bet from out of position on the flop. It’s generally anywhere between 1/5th and 1/3rd of the pot. It is almost always a bet into a pre-flop raiser, when you are first to act, against one or maybe two opponents.

Why use the weak lead?

The weak lead is a great alternative to the check raise when you flop a big hand out of position. By firing out a small bet on the flop, an opponent may come over the top of you with a moderate hand, a draw or even a stone cold bluff.

The reason it works so well is that despite the wealth of poker literature advising players on bet sizing, for many online players, a weak looking bet still means that they’ve got a weak hand. By using this information that has been drummed into your opponents over many online tournaments, you can turn it to your advantage.

Which opponent should you target?

When you’ve got a monster, the weak lead is a play you want to use against a loose-aggressive player, who is capable of making moves with any two cards. Such a player will be looking for any sign of weakness and if they have a pair, any draw or even nothing at all, they may decide to raise your weak lead bet to try and take the pot.

As I mentioned above – a small bet is still often made with a weak hand and if you can give an aggressive opponent any reason to get involved in a hand, they often will. In response to the weak lead, your opponent may raise you for information, as an outright bluff, or they might even think they are raising for value. This is of course exactly what you want!

In contrast, against many loose and inexperienced players who call too much – simply betting your big hands strongly will often bring greater rewards than making any tricky or advanced plays.

The right flop and the wrong flop

Now, let’s look at the best time to use the weak lead. In both of these examples it’s in the reasonably early stages of a tournament - you’ve got two black tens in the big blind and are heads up on the flop after calling a three times the big blind raise from an aggressive early position player (we’ll leave the discussion of whether the flat call here was the right play for another day).

The first flop is 10-6-2 with no flush draws, this gives you top set (the nuts) on a very dry board. This instance is an excellent opportunity to use a weak lead. In this spot you want to get value from someone with top pair and if your opponent has an overpair, the weak lead could be your best option of taking his whole stack. If your opponent simply has overcards or even another random hand, then the weak lead could induce him to come over the top and try to take the hand away from you, or at least ‘float’ to see if they can do this on a later street.

The check raise is such a strong play that is often stops an experienced opponent in their tracks and make them consider if they want to continue in the hand, even if they have caught something on the flop themselves. On such a dry board, a good opponent facing a check raise may sniff out your set and be able to get away from his hand, either right here on the flop or on a later street.

The other advantage of using a weak lead rather than a check raise is that inducing an opponent to put the second bet in on a street, rather than opening it, he will almost always be putting a larger proportion of his chips into play. The weak lead gives you more of an opportunity to get your opponent embroiled in a big pot – And with the nuts this is exactly what you want to do!

Again though, as mentioned earlier, if you see your opponent as a weak or passive player (or both!) then a better play may well be just to bet out for value with your set.

The second flop is J-10-7 with two diamonds. In this example you only have the third nuts, but more importantly, the board is very dangerous with flush and straight draws out there. In my view, this not the right spot for a weak lead because an opponent could call your small bet with a wide range of hands (AK, AQ, KQ, A9, A8, Q9 or two diamonds) and take a very cheap shot at hitting their draw – you’ve essentially priced them in to do this.

A far better play would be to come right out with a pot sized bet, this way you are making your opponent pay a big price if he’s got a draw and wants to hit it. Of course, another play you could use here is a big check raise. This is probably more of a standard play against someone you are expecting to continuation bet, but again you risk your opponent taking the free card.

What to do next?

When an opponent raises your weak lead, if they have committed a large proportion of their chips or you think they are the kind of player to stack off with top pair, then now would be the time to fire a third bet to put them all in.

However, against a good, aggressive and tricky player, with a big stack, now could just be beginning of something beautiful! Rather than three betting, it might be the time to flat call their raise and give them a chance to hang themselves on a later street. If an opponent thinks you are weak on the flop then it may take a lot for them to change this opinion and they could be looking for a chance on a further street to try and take down the pot.

Finally, don’t get too down heartened if your opponent chooses not to take the bait of your weak lead. Your opponent folded on the flop, so probably was unlikely to get too heavily involved, whichever way you chose to play it. You are unlikely to have cost yourself much value through your unorthodox play.

Chorny’s weak lead in Monaco

The final table at the recent EPT event in Monte Carlo saw a great example of the weak lead from eventual winner Glen Chorny.

Four-handed, the super-aggressive and renowned online player Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron raised with AQ and Chorny smooth called in the small blind with pocket aces. Heads up on a flop of 267, Chorny then led out with a half sized pot bet into Baron. Holding just overcards and a back door spade flush draw, Baron pondered, eventually making the decision to shove all in, where he was snap called by a delighted Chorny. Despite picking up a flush draw on the turn, Baron got no help on the river and found himself on the rail after falling for Glen Chorny’s ‘donk bet’.

Chorny’s play worked out perfectly because he had the right opponent and the right flop. The loose-aggressive Baron would be looking for any sign of weakness and chance to take the pot away from him. The deceptive smooth call by Chorny pre-flop and the weak lead on a flop of three undercards induced Baron to commit all his chips when he was virtually drawing dead. Whilst smooth calling pre-flop with aces is sometimes a dangerous play, Chorny took the risk with the chance of busting his most feared remaining opponent at the final table and it paid off.

To conclude

When you flop a monster hand in a tournament, particularly out of position, the weak lead is a play that you definitely need to have in your poker arsenal. In the right spot and against the right opponent it can be used as an excellent alternative to a check raise and enable you to play a big pot with a very big hand, which is always the ideal tournament scenario! Remember, when observant opponents have seen you use a weak lead when you’ve flopped a big hand, it opens a whole range of options to you. You can then make a weak bet to price yourself into a draw, or even as an outright bluff – Opponents will remember your earlier move and you’ve added a whole new level to your post flop play.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008


First post

My name is Phill - I play a lot of poker and I like to write, so it figures that I would start a poker blog. I'm not a world class player or anything like that but I think I'm good. I play all the games, a mixtures of cash and tourneys and a mix of online and live. I infrequently post on a few forums including ITH and The Hendon Mob and read lots of magazines and books about poker. No idea how this blog will pan out - but hopefully I'll pick up a few readers along the way...

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