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TV Trickery: Looking beyond the lens filters

Don’t believe everything you read is a given. But don’t believe everything you see, especially for the aspiring poker player, is still an expression that needs to be addressed. TV serves as a filter to be questioned, not accepted at face value. And when some of the best poker players are at the table, all is not what it seems to be. So next time you’re riveted to the next WPT event trying to add tactics and strategies to your own arsenal, look for what you don’t see rather than what’s obvious. You already know how to read between the lines. Now learn how to see between the frames.

Standing still while others are in forward motion is a recipe for poker problems. We must always be on the lookout to improve our skills. So, what better way than by watching the game’s greats play on television? Certainly, we can advance our no-limit tournament techniques by emulating Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Doyle Brunson. While these pros are focused, savvy, experienced and read opponents well, poker is a situational game, thus we must be careful to filter what we see through our situational sieve.

The vast majority of plays we see on TV are made at a final table, and if we’re watching a World Poker Tour (WPT) event, they’re made short-handed. So, let’s examine the differences in what we see and what we don’t see on TV during a WPT event using the season three main event as our example. In the championship, 452 players bought in for $25,500 and started with $50,000 in chips. The following variables came into play.

Stack size disparity: Early on, the chip differences were relatively slight. There were no short stacks that needed to make a move and no big bully stacks. “Feeler raises” were the order of the first round with very few calls. At the final table, as you can see from the chart below, Habib had more than five times the checks that Phan sat behind. Based on these relative chip counts, Habib was looking to bully since opponents knew the chip leader could eliminate them at any time, and Phan was looking to double through quickly since the blinds had moved to $40,000-$80,000 with $10,000 antes.

Seat Player Chip Count.

1Paul Maxfield$2,885,000
2Hasan Habib$7,795,000
3Phil Ivey$3,365,000
4Tuan Le$2,680,000
5John Phan$1,405,000
6Rob Hollink$4,430,000

Chips in Play $22,560,000.

Blind structure: At the start of play on day one, the blinds were only $50-$100. There was no urgency of commitment since the big blind was an infinitesimal portion of each player’s stack. Raises and calls were generally made with premium holdings. At final tables, the substantial blinds and antes (based on percentages of chips in play) can force players to act aggressively with weak holdings. Opponents, realizing that fact, often make calls with marginal holdings. Urgency is one of the reasons we see Q-8 raise and K-9 call on TV.

Number of opponents: To limit the amount of dealers required, the WPT championship began ten-handed. Final tables of WPT events typically start six-handed. Preflop hand selection standards correctly lessen as the number of players at your table diminishes.

Opponent familiarity: When Jack McClelland bellowed, “Shuffle up and deal” on day one, many players were unknown to their competitors. A feeling-out process to determine opponents’ patterns began. At the final table, the six combatants had been competing together for days. The more we know about an opponent, the more likely we will be able to make a correct decision against him or her.

Opponent types: A plethora of Internet qualifiers and satellite survivors pervaded the championship event. Playing styles ran the gamut. From top professionals to those playing their first tournament without a mouse in hand, every type of player was represented. Late in day one, some were playing “big ball” poker (moving in frequently) while others went into survival mode and stayed that way folding hand after hand waiting for aces or kings. At a WPT final table, we’re seeing predominantly aggressive, take-no-prisoners type players who make money with moves. Rarely do tight players make a WPT final table.

Editing: Viewers see (depending upon the total number of hands played in an event) approximately 20 percnet of the hands contested at a WPT final table. The hands are chosen for impact and interest. Many new players aren’t aware that they’re seeing the most “lively” hands available to the production crew.

So, continue to watch and learn, but factor in the above variables to make sure you get a true read on what you’re seeing on TV.

By Lee Munzer. He welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected]
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