ROI: The Life and Times of a Heads Up Pro

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Game Selection

In looking for HUSNG matches, we’re faced with the decision between sitting first and taking on whoever decides to play us, or to use various methods to select opponents to sit down with. This need not be an either/or situation though, as we may choose to do either one or the other depending on the circumstances. As a professional poker player, you will need to set your own criteria to decide if and how you’re going to make these decisions. Read More

Understanding Luck

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Michael Bates recently did a fantastic article on the four kinds of luck that exist in poker. Since they were published in TwoPlusTwo Magazine, which does not have a long-term archive, we've reproduced them here:

Understanding Luck, Part 1 - by Michael Bates

Understanding Luck, Part 2 - by Michael Bates

You Make Your Own Luck – Cultural Superstitions about Luck

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A shortlist of traditional ways to improve your luck:


  • If you sweep trash out of the house after dark you will sweep away your luck.
  • Having a woman visit you the first thing on Monday mornings is bad luck for the rest of the week.
  • Don't borrow or lend salt because that is bad luck.
  • If a woman sprinkles some salt from her house to yours, it will give you bad luck until you clean the salt away and put pepper over your door sill.


  • Islam, interestingly, has no concept of luck. God alone has power over all things. Holding “lucky charms” is un-Islamic.


  • In India, you can eat sugar mixed with curd before you start something, and this will create luck.


  • Traditionally, Buddhists did not believe in luck. The idea of karma is a central tenet to Buddhism. However, in many Asian cultures, Buddhists may wear lucky amulets which have been blessed by monks for protection against harm.

Chinese Mysticism

  • Oranges bring luck and ward off evil spirits.
  • Dragons recommend good luck. Pearls under a dragon’s neck represent wealth and prosperity. It’s bad luck to face a dragon upside down.
  • The Swastika was originally a Chinese symbol of luck.


  • A horseshoe, hung on the door with the two ends pointing up. If the two ends point downward, then the luck pours out of it. Traditions do differ on this point though, some cultures point the horseshoe down so the luck pours on you. In others, the horseshoe must be used, not new, was found, not purchased, and can be touched.

As Luck Would Have It – A Serious Look at Improving Your Luck

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Throughout history, people have attributed a pattern of random happenings to some mysterious personification. In the gambling industry, it's taken the name of “the Poker gods” and “Lady Luck.” I thought I'd preface this article by saying, I believe in luck.

That's not to say it exists as an entity, just that I believe in it. Science believes in luck, too. A player who has bet on heads repeatedly, and has had the coin come tails a thousand times in a row, well, that player is unlucky. Probability theory can place a value on just how unlucky he is. This player is more than a few standard deviations away from the mean, as they say.

What do we mean by “standard deviations away from the mean” – and how does it apply to the existence of luck? Probability theory is based on premises which assume an average run of luck. In situations where Variance chooses to have her way and makes us either lucky or unlucky, well, probability theory is equipped to handle that, too. It can describe just how lucky or unlucky a player was. There-fore, luck exists in the past. Additionally, probability theory can show how likely or unlikely a future occurrence is, and on top of that, no matter how unlikely an occurrence, if its probability is anything above zero, then it will eventually happen. Therefore, luck exists in the future as well.

So if luck exists in the past and in the future, who are we to say it doesn't exist in the present?

If we can't describe luck in the present, how can we be sure it doesn't exist? But if you can't bring yourself to swallow this pill just yet, ask yourself this: what's the harm in rubbing the Buddha's tummy or throwing salt over your shoulder? It doesn't make you irrational, or unscientific, or stupid. The games the mind plays are far deeper than anyone understands. A run of bad luck can really mess with your head. Why be at the mercy of your luck? Are you Variance's bitch, or is She yours?

This is not a serious text. There are plenty of serious texts. This is a text about improving your luck. Or, if not your luck, then your psyche. Or, if not your psyche, then your understanding of cultural superstitions. Or, if not your understanding of cultural superstitions, then at least I’ll try to keep you entertained. Anyway, you get the picture.

Coaching The Italian

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The weather is nice in Syracuse today, a welcome change from the blustery winter that much of the Northeast saw. I'm sitting outside Acropolis, a local pizza joint that's only worth visiting for its Turkish coffee, with an old Italian man.

The man, dressed in a tweed blazer with mottled brown horn-rimmed glasses, is a very curious student. Often, I wonder whether or not he knows what I'm supposed to be teaching him better than I do, but his demeanor and eagerness to learn and ask question never belies this fact.

In passing as we finished, I asked him if he was aware of Nate Silver, the prolific statistician for the New York Times who has had an excellent track record in the past at predicting baseball scores, elections, and everything in between. Nate, I said, had given the Syracuse Orange a 48.1% chance to win the semi-final game of the NCAA March Madness tournament, while the sportsbook line pays out at +120. The question he asked, at first, surprised me: "What does that mean?"
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Consoling a Billionaire After Day 1 of the WPT Venice

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I'm sitting in the bar at the Casinó di Venezia with Sandor Demjan, the richest man in Hungary, worth over $4 billion. When we met before, in Krakow, Poland, we played together for nearly twelve hours before the morning light broke up the game and sent us our separate ways.

Sandor has just busted out of the WPT Venice. His hand, , didn't hold up after a pre-flop reraise puts him all-in against .

I can always hear the sea calling anytime I'm in Venice: it sings the soft, gentle song of the whale. I invite Sandor to a game I have scheduled for tomorrow night. I am certain he will attend.

Drinking Vodka in Oslo With Germans

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I'm in Oslo, Norway, inside a hostel at the base of Holmenkollbakken, one of the world's largest man-made ski jumps. My five new friends are adrenaline junkies from Germany. They have each taken the week off to enjoy one of the last skiing weekends of the season. I am not a skier, but I understand the motivation: I often make the same decision at the end of golf season.

I'm here for just one reason: the Germans.

We sit down to play, and I make sure to position myself to the left of Anton, the player who seemed most eager to play with me. Typically, when an opponent is extremely eager to play poker, they're either very good or very bad. In either case, it behooves you to act directly after they do.

I take out a bottle of Christiania Vodka and we let the game begin.

Georgetown Was Losing, and I Was Winning

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At the Commerce, 4pm is the precise moment when no one looks at you funny whether you're drinking a coffee or a beer, and after a long day of cards, I needed to have both. In the cupholder to my left, a Stella Artois. To my right, a mug that I picked up years ago in the United Kingdom in the colors of the Union Jack.

In chips, I had just over $1,500. The game was a very aggressive $5/$10 No Limit Hold'em with six players besides myself. The two men directly across the table, distracted by the basketball game on the TV, were my marks. Of the last ten hands I watched, they were both in a majority of them, together, betting and raising with the conviction of someone who knows the other person is full of shit. They are both right. When I look down at the in the cutoff, I decide to gamble. Villain 1, under the gun, raises to $30, and Villain 2, MP calls. The table folds to me, and I call.

The flop might have produced an audible groan in the shoes of a lesser man.
After Flop:

I am never confident looking at a middling flush draw against aggressive opponents, but when Villain 1 bets $50 and Villain 2 calls, I decide to come along for another card. Fortunately, my hand gets much stronger on the turn, which brings a , giving me the nut straight and hoping, now, that the flush doesn't come after all.

After Turn:

To my delight, Villain 1 bets $100 and Villain 2 makes an overbet, $350. I push the rest of my chips in, happy to shut the hand down now, without letting any more cards come that could take away the big pot I stand to win. Villain 1 folds immediately, but villain 2 surprises me with a call. I turn over my cards, for the straight, and he turns over , for an unfortunate set. The river blanks, and I rake in the pot.

He throws his cards across the table, his anger at the cards only magnified by the fact that Georgetown was losing, badly, to Florida Gulf Coast.

Coffee with Ciji in Italy

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I'm on the patio of Positano's Le Sirenuse, on the Amalfi coast, sipping granita di caffé. The afternoon wind whips the hair of Ciji, a beautiful, and merciless, poker player I met here in the city. Her espresso has just been refilled by the tall, thin maître d’hôtel, but she doesn't notice as she continues to rave about the softness of the game she played in the back room at the club where we met the night before.

The game of the night was Pot Limit Omaha, and her opponent is the night's big winner, a tall, Finnish guy whose name doesn't matter, because with over $20,000 in front of him, he far outstacked Ciji, who had just $2,000. Blinds were $10 and $20.

Ciji is on the button with Ac Jc Kh 2h, and the cutoff raises to $40. Ciji, liking her AJK2ss, three-bets to $150. The Big Blind calls, as does the cutoff.
Ciji's Hand

The flop helps some, with Kd 8c and 6h showing. The BB bets out, $230. The cutoff, who originally raised, now folds, and Ciji calls.

After Flop:

The turn brings Qh, and the BB bets large again, $660. Ciji calls with top pair and a nut flush draw.

After Turn:

The river brings the Ks, giving Ciji top trips. The BB bets again, $870. Ciji stops abruptly and asks, "what should I do here?" The answer to me is very clear.

After River:

I have another sip of coffee as I think about extending my stay in Italy for a few more days. What would you do?

A hand from a film set in Nevada

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I'm visiting an actor friend on his movie set outside Carson City, Nevada.

My knees and thighs are sore from the three-hour long horseback ride that brought us to this remote mountain ridge.

Sitting to my left are the director of the film and two cameramen from Hollywood who arrived in a helicopter.

Looking down and finding a hand, ace-jack of hearts, I open under the gun for $50, about 10% of the $500 stack I've accumulated. There's no limit on this game, and the rules are unstated but understood, and my friends each have between $200 and $300 in fives, tens, and twenties in front of them. The blinds are $5 and $5.
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