This could easily have been the clash of some of the extravagantly named players I had seen on British TV’s first poker broadcast, Late Night Poker. The ensuing exchange certainly played out like a hand of Texas Hold’em, as Steve Bellis took on five potential investors, and got a call from two, with his business The Nuts Poker League.
And so my interest in pub poker was ignited. Several thousand players, playing across England, Scotland, and Wales, play for points, which can mean prizes, as qualifiers over a 3 month season go on to compete for poker paraphernalia, cash, and even holidays to Las Vegas at their Regional Finals and then onto the National Finals with an £8,000 prize pool. As such, the weekly games are often keenly contested, and with this I would like to share my views on how to play the structure, a who’s who of pub poker players, and how to rack up the points to ensure your qualification for the Finals. With an average of 20 players, I run a tight 3 hour structure. Nine blind levels, with six at 20 minutes and three at 15 minutes, allows time for two short breaks. A 3,000 starting stack gives each player 50 Big Blinds, as the seat draw is made and ‘shuffle up and deal’ is announced. With a fast approaching break after one hour and blinds recommencing at 200/400 the average stack will only have around 10 Big Blinds, with which to make their assault on a final table place – earning them points towards their league tally. As such, tight play is only possible for the first level or two, before opportunities need to be exploited and chips amassed. Even with a modest increase to 4,000 chips by the break, all-in play is fast approaching. I look to push with 7-10 Big Blinds, in the early to mid-stages of the tournament, as waiting any longer will mean having to push with a much wider range and will allow others to call with a much wider range too. A lose-lose situation.
The early stages usually play out in one of two ways: with four or five players limping to see each flop presenting the opportunity for you to limp, in position, with suited connectors, Ax suited, Kx suited, and small pairs, in the hope of flopping a made hand or draw. See as many flops as you can, whilst a cheap price is offered, as this will be your only opportunity to do so in the tournament. Raising with anything other than a premium hand will often only act as a pot-sweetener, with each player in turn calling your raise. Where play is faster, usually instigated by either Kostas the Jackal or The Great White (two of our most aggressive Tuesday night regulars), look for opportunities to extract maximum value with premium hands, trapping, where appropriate, with a good chance of being paid off. Many players will be looking to bluff ‘safe’ flops and exploit any signs of passive play with aggression – a great opportunity to slow-play big hands. They will often find it difficult to fold big pre-flop hands that have missed on the flop, or that have connected but are behind to your hand. In the later stages of the tournament, players will tighten up, as usual, and you should be prepared to makes raises, in position, with a wider range to pick up valuable blinds. Many players will have an understanding of basic text book poker strategy, possibly having read Harrington on Hold’em as an example. Do not slip into a style of play that becomes too predictable. Mix it up. Vary your bet sizing. Keep them guessing. However, some will also be guilty of over-estimating their skill level, perhaps they may have read Gus Hansen’s book and champion a looser style, as seen employed on the High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark programmes. They will try to emulate their TV poker heroes, but without understanding effective strategic play that makes this style successful. Be aware of these players and be wary of trying to bluff them. Use the check-raise and float more often where they are likely to have missed the flop. All-in-all, employing this type of play should give you a decent chance of regular finishes on the final table. Throw in a few top 3 finishes or the occasional win and you should secure your qualification place.
But this is pub poker! Poker played in the pub! Where men-folk gather to drink the local brew! In fact, downing several glass of Rose wine, followed by aftershocks and cocktails of many colours is the order of the day at our Thursday night venue. These players often arrive with good intentions, but as 10 o’clock approaches, taxis are ordered and a night up-town beckons. These players will now be happy to shove their chips in with any two cards, in the hope of being called and busted out of the tournament. You will not see this play made on the GUKPT or the WSOP. Be aware of your players, listen to what they say about which poker books they read, or which TV players they aspire to play like, but most importantly listen out for what time their taxi is booked and keep a mental note of their alcoholic unit consumption!