Despite sharing the same rules, live poker games are quite a bit different than their online counterparts.
Whether it is the excessive limping or constant table talk, live poker presents unique variables which may be unfamiliar to online regulars.
That said, live games are usually a lot easier to beat than online ones. Thus, the nuances of live poker are certainly worth learning.
Here are eight awesome live poker tips that will help you crush the games on your next trip to the casino (including two exclusive video tips from Doug Polk and Ryan Fee).
This article has been updated (originally published 5/5/2017).
1. Punish Limpers As Much As Possible
If you are new to live poker, you’ll probably be astounded by how often players open-limp and limp behind. Most of the time, limping is an inadvisable and weak strategy that hurts one’s ability to win the pot whilst giving opponents behind an opportunity to exploit them.
Many live players can’t help it. They have come to the casino to play some poker, and they don’t want to spend their whole session folding. They want to see tons of flops with tons of hands.
So, how exactly do you punish a player who open-limps? There are two acceptable approaches:
1. In theory, you should tighten your raising range vs a limper because there is now an extra player in the pot.
The more players there are in a pot, the less equity your hand will have (see: multi-way pots article). Additionally, a player who limps is indicating that they have a hand worth playing. For these reasons, it makes theoretical sense to tighten your raise range to account for that extra player.
Playing tighter is usually better when the limper is a good player or a completely unknown player. Against most limpers, however, it’s best to take the second approach.
2. In practice, it’s usually better to play looser against a limper.
Most players who open-limp are not good players, so it’s unlikely they are capable of putting you in tough spots. As a result, you can actually raise a bit wider of a range in order to target the limper and take advantage of the extra money in the pot.
Facing Multiple Limpers
The best way to respond to multiple limps in front of you is to tighten your raising range and increase your raise size.
Most live players love to call, and there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to isolate the weak player at the table only to have every single limper come along as well. By using a larger sizing (we recommend 4-5BB plus 1BB per additional limper), we prevent the players at the table from getting what they want–a cheap flop.
If you want to learn a bit more about playing versus limpers, read Crush Open Limps Like a High Stakes Pro.
2. Turn Up Your Aggression on the Button
The power of position is especially advantageous against weaker competition.
Versus recreational opponents who love calling and using unconventional bet sizes, being on the button allows you to make your decision with the maximum possible amount of information.
In preflop spots, you can profitably call raises from the button with a wide range of hands that can be easily and effectively played postflop. Also, because aggressive 3-betting does not typically occur in live games, you can flat a relatively wide range from the button without having to worry about a squeeze 3-bet from the blinds.
In postflop spots, you will often get a great price to realize your equity and can stab at the pot when your opponents are acting passively.
Playing too passively on the button is a very common mistake poker players make. For more on how to avoid it, check out 12 Preflop Mistakes You Must Avoid (#5 and #7 are about button play).
3. Keep an Eye Out for Softer Tables
Live games offer very little when it comes to hand volume. Therefore, it’s important to make the most of your time spent at the casino. Playing in the toughest game to bolster your skills is good at times, but not every session.
Be savvy about table selection and your hourly will shoot up. Here are a few signs that a game may be particularly profitable to play:
- Alcohol on side tables.
- Multi-person groups playing to have a good time.
- Lively/loud players.
- Lots of multiway pots.
If possible, try to play when the games are at their softest. This is usually late at night or on the weekend when players are more likely to be drunk, tired and out to gamble. It’s okay to put in day sessions too, but the games will be less profitable on average.
4. Control Your Mouth
Have you ever seen a player verbally blast a fish for making a bad call and sucking out? You probably have, and if not, just search “Phil Hellmuth” on YouTube. Or read this hand analysis.
Going on tirades at the table is disrespectful to those around you. Not only does it create a negative environment at the table, but it discourages weak players from making fishy plays.
Think about it: you don’t want the bad players at the table to know that they are making bad decisions. If anything, you want the opposite. That way, they will feel blissfully happy with their decision-making and continue to make poor strategic choices which will ultimately benefit your bankroll.
Be courteous when you get sucked out on by a fish. Say “nice hand” (in a non-sarcastic way) and move onto the next one. Or just keep your mouth shut like Upswing’s Matt Colletta recommends in his article 5 Reasons to Shut Your Big Mouth at the Poker Table.
5. Play Faster
Tanking in poker is almost fashionable these days.
Artificial tanking can be reasonable in order to balance your response-time and avoid giving off timing tells, but it is completely unnecessary in the vast majority of spots.
Not only do fake tanks frustrate the other players at the table, they also cut into your hourly win-rate by reducing the number of hands played per hour. If you’re a good player, you want to see as many hands per hour as possible to maximize your hourly.
In case that wasn’t enough to convince you, check out Jimmy Fricke’s 6 Reasons Why You Need to Play Faster.
6. Be Wary of Anglers
Referred to as “angle-shooting“, there are some poker players who willfully act against or look to exploit rules in order to elicit information from their opponent(s).
If you are an online player making the transition to live poker, you likely won’t have encountered angle-shooters before. They are rare, but unfortunately they do exist. You need to be aware and able to protect yourself so you don’t become a victim.
Jimmy Fricke wrote up another great piece listing common angles cheaters use at the poker table. Here are five of the most common ones:
- Betting line foolery to elicit a reaction.
- Deliberate misinforming of stack size.
- Phantom checking.
- Making a raise look and seem accidental.
- Lying about hand strength at showdown.
Remember, the dealer can’t catch everything. Make sure you keep an eye out for these angles at all times.
7. Keep an Eye Out for Exploitative Adjustments
I’ll let Doug take this one (transcription below the video):
My tip for live poker is to make sure you keep an eye on what your opponents are doing.
Let’s say you’re playing a game and you see someone check-raise very thin for value, like KT on a K-9-4 type of flop. What I might think to myself after seeing that is:
“If they’re going to check-raise that thin for value, when they do decide to check-call they are going to have a particularly weak range.”
When you’re playing against an opponent like this, you’re going to want to make a few adjustments:
- Barrel the turn and river more often
- Go for thinner value bets on later streets
- Bluff them more often on later streets
Whenever you get the chance to see your opponents’ hands in live games, think about how you would have played the hand and if they made any notable mistakes. Then adjust your strategy to beat them for more money.
To learn more specific exploitative adjustments like the one Doug mentioned, read these articles:
- How to Destroy Your Opponent After Seeing One Showdown
- How to Exploit 3 Different Types of Poker Players
Tip 8. Watch Out for This Live Tell
There is one tell in all of poker that I might use, and it’s this: When a monotone flop (3 of one suit) is dealt and your opponent takes a look back at their cards, they are likely checking to see if they have a card of that suit.
For instance: You raise on the button and the big blind calls. The flop comes 8♥ 6♥ 3♥ and the big blind re-looks at his cards before checking. The big blind is more than likely trying to see if his hand has a heart in it.
Another spot this tell may happen is on two-tone flops. Imagine you defend your big blind against a UTG raise, the flop comes T♠ 9♠ 4♥, and UTG re-checks their cards. It’s possible they have a hand like AK offsuit, and they’re checking to see which card is a spade or if they have a spade at all.
As with all tells, you should be very selective when trying to apply this tell in game. It’s usually not the best idea to make hero folds or hero calls based on a live tell. However, using them in close spots to sway your decision one way or the other is fine.
We are generally wary of making plays based on live tells here at Upswing, but we still had acclaimed tells expert Zach Elwood write-up a few articles for our audience. Check out his article on physical tells here and verbal tells here.
Live Poker Tips Wrap-Up
Keep these tips in mind and your live poker win-rate will thank you:
- Punish limpers as much as possible — there will be a lot of them.
- Turn up your aggression on the button, especially against weak players in the blinds.
- Keep an eye out for softer tables and be ready to change tables at any time.
- Control your mouth so everyone else at the table stays happy.
- Play faster so you get in more hands per hour.
- Be wary of cheaters and watch out for yourself.
- Keep an eye out for weaknesses to exploit.
- Watch out for the hole card check live tell on monotone flops (but use it selectively).
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out my best article on the site: Crush Live Poker with these 8 Battle-Tested Tactics. It’s all about identifying and attacking weaknesses in your live competition’s game, which is a crucial skill for live players.
Until next time!