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Improve Your Poker
by Bob Ciaffone
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One of the more respected writers of this generation, Ciaffone's material, now compiled under one cover, has previously appeared in a variety of publications. Here, he helps sharpen the skills of beginners and experienced players in ten different areas, including general concepts like beating a loose game, and tight/loose play. He moves to gambling skills like the mental side, and money management; then to Reading Opponents, including tells and using your eyes. A vital section on Deception and Bluffing is followed by incisive advice on Hold'em including raising and missing.
Read a review of Improve Your Poker
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World Series of Poker Official SiteThe World Series of Poker has been the premier poker tournament in the world ever since it was launched by Benny Binion at the Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas in 1970. Harrah's bought the rights to the tournament in 2004 and has moved the action to the Rio. The official site shows the circuit schedule leading up to the big event held in the summer. There is also a registration section and a WSOP store.PokerRoomHere's a place to play poker including 5 Card Draw. is a good looking site that packs in a lot of features. Along with a great place to play poker, the site has a poker school, a discussion board, a list of winners (including pictures) and a place to shop.InterpokerFounded in 2002, InterPoker has quickly become one of the largest and most respected online poker rooms. It is owned and operated by InterCasino, one of the oldest, most awarded and largest online casinos in the world. Interpoker uses CryptoLogic gaming software.

Poker Tournament Psychology

Many poker players perform well below their technical ability when playing in a tournament. More money and more prestige are at stake in a large tournament than in all but the biggest money games.Bob CiaffoneBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play.  Bob's website is  This leads to more pressure.
Speaking for myself, I have played a tournament pot with a seven-figure amount in it, and a great many in six figures.
But in money games, only perhaps a dozen pots I’ve played have been as much as five figures. I am sure that most of you also have greatly disparate sums in these two departments.
Let’s discuss some of the common psychological errors in tournament play that occur in the bigger tournaments. (It is hard for me to conceive of a $10 buy-in Internet tournament as being pressure to anyone; think of the event I am talking about here to be a live tournament with a buy-in of $500 or more.)
1. Forming a preconceived game plan: What would be your opinion of a general who had an elaborate battle plan that he intended to follow, come hell or high water, but he did not know on what front he would be fighting, the number of enemy soldiers, their weaponry, or the topography of the battlefield? I am sure we all would be quite critical of such a commander, believing him to be too mentally rigid to get the optimum result. In many ways, a poker player is like a general. He needs to see who is at his table, how experienced they are, and what will be the normal way to play for that particular table before he can go too far with forming his own plans. If you decide ahead of time to be very careful or to be superaggressive for an event, you are no better than that general with the overly rigid mind.
2. Having a fear of failure: Lots of players would not be bothered by lasting for a while, yet finishing out of the money. The main thing they do not want to do is bust out early and look like a patsy. They want to see lots of players exiting before they do. To this type of thinking, outlasting people who bust out early means you played better than they did. (Often, the converse is true, since an extremely tight tournament player has little chance to win.) Many professionals feel as I do; it’s better to go out of an event early and get into a juicy cash game than burn up a day and still go home empty-handed. I am not saying you should start right out splashing about with weak hands, hoping to get lucky, but you do need to run risks to play tournament poker in a manner that gives yourself the best chance to win.
3. Not staying flexible: The best tournament poker advice I ever received was from Dewey Tomko, who told me the following: “You have to be alert to any changes at your table and their influence on play. Every time the blinds go up, someone new comes to the table, someone gets knocked out, or a big pot is won or lost, the atmosphere changes. Stay tuned in to what has happened to the game and play accordingly.” I might add that the change from blinds only to the addition of an ante causes a rapid and sizable switch in the game conditions. Few players are as tuned in to changes as they ought to be. Stay alert so that you can go with the flow — or take advantage of it.
4. Feeling obliged to make something happen: Hold’em has long dry spells. A player going through a drought of decent hands gets frustrated, and often decides to “take matters into his own hands” and start splashing about. The result is more likely to be an early exit instead of a bigger stack. To be sure, once you get very low on chips, it is necessary to make a stand before you get anted down to the cloth. This is not the type of situation I am talking about, in which pushing the panic button is justified. I am referring to falling “below the curve,” where you still have a sufficient quantity of chips to fight at the current level of blinds/antes, but most of the other players have more. Note that this situation will occur only in a tournament that starts you off with a goodly amount of chips and does not raise the blinds to the moon in a hurry to get the event over.
5. Taking things personally: Nearly every table these days has one or more bullies, players with big stacks who are frequently fighting you instead of folding. Do not take it personally when you constantly get bet into or raised. I believe that a bully should not be able to trick you into playing weak hands by doing so himself. On the contrary, you need to tighten up preflop so that you build hands that can take some heat. His game plan is to bet heavily to try to run you out of the pot. Your best counter is to have a bigger hand than he anticipates. You also have to be willing to reraise when the situation calls for it, such as when you have a good but not great hand that is out of position, since your opponent probably does not have a quality hand on a given occasion.

6. Failing to recover from a reverse:
You will play lots of pots during the length of an entire tournament. It is unrealistic to think you are going to run wire to wire without any setbacks, even if you are lucky enough to win the event. When things are going good, you are in a positive frame of mind, and maybe even suffering from the delusion of near invincibility. At some point, you are going to get a jolt, as if one of your competitors has dumped a bucket of ice water over your head. You need to keep your equilibrium after such a shock. The worst thing you can do is go on a wild bluffing spree to try to get back to where you were before you lost that big pot. The other players are going to be more willing to pay you off after you have suffered a big loss, so hope to pick up a good hand and show it to them when they call.

7. Fading in the stretch:
You made it to the final table. In most big brick-and-mortar casino events these days, the final table is played on a second day, after you have rested and recovered your energy. However, some events still play straight through to a winner. Famous Tournament Director Jack McClelland told me he has seen a huge number of players, even world-class pros, make silly mistakes when they are tired. The psychology of the situation is, “OK, let’s put the money in and see who gets lucky.” Unsurprisingly, the better hand is usually the one that “gets lucky.” You have stayed patient for half a day or more, so don’t crack now.
8. Thinking about how much you would like to win, so that you can attain a certain goal: You are playing with chips and trying to do your best. If you start spending the money before you make it, you are liable to perform less than optimally. As soon as those chips get mentally converted to cash, you are going to lose a lot of your gamble. It should be simply tournament chips you wager, not enough money to buy a Lexus or pay off the mortgage. You can be sure a tough competitor like Tiger Woods does not dwell on what is at stake when he lines up a key putt to win a major championship. He’s all business. When you put extra pressure on yourself, it often has a reverse effect, so just execute during the contest, and think about how you will spend the money only as you are walking to the cashier’s window.
I like to quote the great German chess player of a century ago, Sigbert Tarrasch, who once said, “It is not enough to be a good player; you must also play well.” Often, when someone does not play his best in a poker tournament, it is from encountering one or more of the psychological problems listed above.
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