Watching televised poker tournaments

There are many tips you can learn about poker by watching televised poker tournaments. But let’s look a little farther; if you try to apply what you have observed to your casino or home poker game, you might wind up wishing you hadn’t watched the TV match.

The most important difference between what you’re watching on television and the way you’re playing is that with rare exceptions, the televised events are played in a no-limit format. In no-limit, any player can bet as much of his stack as he wants at any time, and for that reason, it is considered one of the most skillful forms of poker.

Suppose, for example, that you have a pretty good hand. In limit poker where the bets are, as the name implies, limited to a predetermined size on each betting round, you can bet your hand without fear of losing your entire stack in one false move. In a no-limit game, what do you do when you have a pretty good hand and someone else shoves his entire chip stack forward, forcing you to commit all of your chips should you decide to call?

Now all of a sudden the decision isn’t so easy, and this is why many good no-limit players believe they can go long stretches in tournaments without catching any cards; they can win pots just by sensing weaknesses in their opponents and then having the heart to back up that judgment with a big bet.

You see this tactic a lot in no-limit hold’em.

The strategy always has been a part of the game, but until recently we didn’t have television cameras showing the audience the players’ hole cards. I think the presence of the television cameras has actually caused the bluffing rate to go up a bit because people want to look like brilliant players or amazing bluffers for the camera. Regardless, you need to know why this won’t work in your game.

In the kind of limit poker that 99 percent of us play at home and in casinos, you cannot push someone off a pretty good hand by shoving a huge bet at him. The limits are predetermined, and the owner of a good hand can simply call a couple of times to see if he is facing a bigger hand or a bluffer. People who watch the World Poker Tour or the practically omnipresent seven-part ESPN special on the 2003 World Series of Poker start to get the idea that great players bluff a lot.

In a game where it doesn’t cost you a fortune to find out if the other guy is bluffing, running a successful bluff is far more difficult. It’s far more of a finesse move than a power move. Because it only costs one bet to call many times players who are firmly convinced they are beaten will call just because they can’t stand the thought of not knowing what the other guy holds. They want to make sure they haven’t been bluffed out.

Another big difference is that you are watching tournaments, not money games. In a tournament, you can’t reach into your wallet to buy more chips once the event has gotten rolling. This makes your last few chips very precious. In a money game, if you get unlucky, you can pull more money out as soon as the hand is over.