Gordon explains it all
The line stretched from the front of the ESPN Zone on Ohio Street in Chicago, down the street and around the corner. People had been lining up since before 1 p.m. for the event that wouldn't start for another six hours. Several of those in line plopped down on the concrete, broke out a deck of cards and started playing poker.
Because it was poker that brought them here.
Phil Gordon would be in concert. The well-spoken and multi-talented pro, co-host of Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown," would be delivering a seminar on risk calculation in Hold'em
(The night before, by the way, Gordon threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game in Wrigley Field, which required a bit of risk calculation itself. "It was cool,'' Gordon says. "I had a lot of money on it, too. If I'd have bounced it or the pitch had gone over the catcher's head or off to the side, I was going to lose about $10,000 in bets with the usual suspects. Fortunately for me, I threw one and the catcher did not have to move. I'm not going to say it was a strike, I'm not going to say it was a ball, but the catcher did not have to shift his weight or feet.'')
Anyway, this was the third of six tutorials he will preside over across the country as part of the Degree For Men All-In Poker Experience, which he is wonderfully qualified to present based on some intense investigation over the last year.
"I've never contended being the best player in the world, but I'm learning,'' Gordon says before he will address the standing-room crowd in excess of 100 poker players. "Writing this book ("The Little Green Book of Hold'em,'' due in October) and making the DVD ("Final Table,'' available now at expertinsight.com) helped my game. It forced me to think about the game in a critical way.
"Doing 'The Little Green Book,' I did a month's worth of mathematical examinations that I hadn't done before and no one had done before. At the end of the day, this is a mathematical game combined with psychology.''
Gordon, who made the final table of the 2001 World Series of Poker main event and owns a World Poker Tour title, made the final table in two No Limit Hold'em tournaments and placed 20th in another one, all against huge fields in this year's World Series, just in case you wondered if the guy knew what he was talking about.
Gordon designed the program to highlight five major parts of taking risks at the table, the most obvious being the first decision facing players.
"The most important decision you can make in Texas Hold'em is, 'Do I risk playing the two cards tat I've been dealt?''' he says. "Once you make that decision, it's my firm belief that a lot of the things that happen later in the hand are fairly easy.''
Gordon stresses David Sklansky's Gap Principle that emphasizes the difference in your strength of cards needed to call a raise compared to making one.
"Risking that raise is vital, I think, to success in no-limit, and I think a lot of people don't really get that,'' Gordon says. "There's a very big gap in the hands that are worth calling a raise with and the hands you should be willing to raise with. You need an infinitely stronger hand to call a raise with than to raise with. Hands like A-10, for instance, if I'm the first player to enter the pot in middle position, I'm always going to play that hand. I'm going to risk a raise. But if someone in early position enters the pot before me, I wouldn't risk calling a raise there. There's a big gap there. I don't want to be dominated.
"The reason I start the DVD with that is because it's the biggest mistake that players make - players of all types. Watch the poker shows. The biggest pots, the pots that bust people, are the pots where people are dominated. It's that A-J vs. A-Q, it's the A-Q vs. the A-K. Those are hands that when you're getting your money in, your going to be in big, big trouble, You're only going to be about 25-30 percent to win, whereas, if you have two live cards, you're much better off. Seven-deuce offsuit vs. A-K: 35 percent to win. A-K vs. A-Q: 25 percent. You've got a better chance with 7-deuce offsuit against A-K than you do with A-Q. That's something that not many people understand. So, if you're going to get involved in a pot and get a substantial number of your chips involved, don't do it with a dominated hand.''
Gordon also outlines circumstances where you must be willing to risk your chips, no matter your cards.
"The one I focus on here is when you have half your chips committed to the pot before the flop,'' he says. "If you're raised, you are virtually forced to call all in, no matter what your cards are because you're getting 3-1 on your money. Anytime you're getting 3-1 on your money before the flop, you have to call. If you have 7-deuce and the guy has A-7, you're still 25 percent to win and you're getting 3-1 on your money.''
Gordon also explains the times you must be willing to risk a bluff.
"I don't think players miss the chance as much as I think they misuse the chance,'' Gordon says. "I think people bluff too much. They bluff in situations where they can't possibly win, such as when their opponent is pot-committed, when they've acted weak throughout the hand and then try to take it on the river when the last card couldn't possibly have helped their hand and they try to bluff anyway.
"The biggest problem, even for professional poker players, is they bluff when their opponent can't fold. They bluff against calling stations. You just can't bluff someone who won't fold.''
Gordon explains pot odds the best I've ever seen, says limping is for losers, and contends that K-Q is "one of the most overrated starting hands,'' before concluding with a point about risking a bet on the river.
"If you have a medium-strength hand on the river it is always wrong to bet because you will only get called by a hand that beats you and every hand that you beat, he will fold,'' Gordon says. "You are much better off checking that medium-strength hand and giving your opponent the chance to make a mistake.
"The goal of the game is to get your opponent to put as many chips into the pot as possible when you have the best hand. By betting that medium-strength hand, you eliminate that possibility. If you check the medium-strength hand, your opponent can make that mistake.''
FOLLOWING UP: As discussed here a couple weeks ago, the World Poker Tour and the Travel Channel have changed their policy regarding sponsored logos at the tables. Players will be able to wear them in preliminary rounds and at the final tables, provided they meet written guidelines. Guidelines are available at www.worldpokertour.com/rules. The new policy takes effect with the WPT event staged at The Borgata in Atlantic City in September.
Steve Rosenbloom is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, writes a syndicated poker column for the Chicago Tribune, and is the author of the upcoming book "The Best Hand I Ever Played. To leave Steve some feedback, check out his mailbag.