Brack to basics
Take one eager student and one degenerate instructor, arm them with an online bankroll and turn them loose on the virtual felt in a quest for bankroll-bursting glory – what could possibly go wrong with Gambling duo Duncan Wilkie and Gareth Bracken on the case?
Duncan Wilkie has been a poker journalist for over two years now and has been honing his game on the UK and European live poker circuit. He primarily plays cash games online and was a sponsored six-max player until it became apparent that he had neither the discipline nor the attention span to grind for a living. These days, he instead focuses on playing recreationally and sticks almost exclusively to live and online MTTs – an arena that he has had some success in over the past year. His mission is now to turn Gareth into a bonafide poker shark.
Gareth Bracken joined Gambling as an editorial assistant in the spring of 2010 and has been vowing to improve his poker game ever since. He enjoys, understands and follows the game but plays at a level that he himself describes as “pretty awful”. He plays online at micro stakes and has competed live a handful of times in office and media industry games, the extent of his ambitions usually being to not embarrass himself too much.
They say that those who can’t do, teach – so, without a significant cash since May, when the chance to take a poker disciple under my wing for a new series in Gambling presented itself, I naturally jumped at the chance to extol some of my ‘wisdom’ on someone perhaps better equipped to use it.
The disciple in question is Gambling writer Gareth Bracken, a self-confessed poker novice with a thirst for knowledge and a questionable penchant for min-betting. Having seen Gareth play in office games before, I know he has some idea of what he’s doing, but he’ll need some fine-tuning if he’s to become the next Tom Dwan. We settled on 888 Poker as our poker site of choice.
Ideally, what we will be looking to do over the coming months is take the bare bones of Gareth’s game and flesh them out with sound logic and poker theory. Ultimately, we’ll be looking to improve his confidence and all-round game to the point where he can compete in a major tournament without being over-awed by the opposition.
However, in order for me to first gain a better idea of the enormity of the task I’ve let myself in for, I decide to turn Gareth loose on the virtual felt and see how he gets on without any guidance. Needless to say the results weren’t pretty, but from his hand histories I am at least able to see what areas of his game will need the most work.
One of the most obvious leaks in Gareth’s play relates to his bet-sizing both pre- and post-flop. His bets are frequently far too small – especially when there are other players in the pot – and as a result he is getting called by many unusual holdings. His post-flop betting also follows this trend and is typically only about 25% of the pot.
This is not an optimal way to play as it both prices opponents in to call with junky holdings and prevents Gareth from extracting maximum value from his big hands. Although there are many nuances to bet-sizing, as we are starting with the basics at low-stakes, I’m going to recommend a uniform 3x the big blind bet as the standard.
As ever, I will suggest that he adds an extra big blind for each player that has limped into the pot in order to offer them less favourable pot-odds and his default quarter-pot flop bet will definitely need addressing. Typically I would recommend 60-100% of the pot based on board texture, but at this early stage a standard 70% will suffice.
Hopefully, as he incorporates these default bet sizes into his game, Gareth will find that he is more successful at driving people out of pots when he needs to protect his hand and is also able to extract more value when he has a monster. Naturally, as we progress these amounts will be refined, but for now having a set system seems wise.
Another key aspect I’ll be looking to instil in Gareth’s game is a strong sense of position and how this should affect the range of hands he is opening with. Judging by his hand histories, he is clearly aware that certain hands such as ace-rag cannot be played from early position, but his ranges in middle and late position need attention.
It seems as though he is currently treating middle and late position almost identically, meaning that he is opening in mid-position slightly light and not being as aggressive on the button as he should be. Again, I think at this early stage of our training it is best to start with some very basic guidelines as to what he should play from where.
In early position I am going to advocate playing ridiculously tight. I just think when you first start playing poker you get yourself into so many tricky situations as a result of being caught out of position that it’s best to only open premium hands from early position. For now, this will be confined to A-A to T-T, A-K and A-Q-suited, to keep things simple.
Further round the table Gareth can start mixing smaller pairs, broadway combos and medium aces like A-T in with his range, but again I would advocate playing a tighter game than usual until we’ve had the chance to go over his post-flop game. For now, the only position I think he should be opening a wide range from is the button.
THE ROAD AHEAD
As you will have probably have figured out for yourselves by now, for the time being at least I’m primarily focussed on going back to basics and giving Gareth a solid foundation on which to build. As the series goes on, I will look more at his post-flop play, hand-reading skills and grasp of pot odds as I try to further fine-tune his game.
With a bit of luck, Gareth will be able to make a few adjustments based on what we’ve talked about over the coming month and put these concepts into good use at the table. I will be monitoring his progress and advising wherever I can and, in the next instalment, we’ll be back with some real-life sessions from his time at the felt.
Check back in the March issue for the next instalment in the Brack to Basics poker tuition series
THE ROOKIE’S REVIEW
Here’s Gareth’s take on how his first tutorial with Duncan went
It’s been my ambition for some time now to improve my poker and this really is the perfect opportunity to do so. In all honestly, my previous attempts to develop my game have been somewhat half-baked and I’ve never made a concerted effort to knuckle down and better myself.
I realise that I’m not about to become an expert overnight but to be able to become a competent player in the next few months would be fantastic. By that I mean someone who operates at a level above your average low-stakes fish, a fraternity to which I currently belong.
I’m keen to get the basics in place and I immediately felt the benefits of even the simplest pieces of advice. It’s noticeable straight away that my new, improved bet sizes are having a positive effect, getting rid of opponents who might otherwise have taken their chances with a cheap flop. Similarly, my larger post-flop bets have helped me extract greater value when I’ve got a strong hand.
I feel it’s been a very positive start and I’m eager to build on my early progress.