Tag Archives: tips

The Hippodrome poker classic: 5 tips on reaching the final table with terrible hands

17 Feb
Hippodrome classic final table

The final table at the PokerStars/Hippodrome Winter Classic tournament.

On Sunday I came seventh in the PokerStars Live at the Hippodrome Winter Classic tournament for £1,600. Not as good as last year’s, in which I came third for £5,250, but I’m prouder of this result, because I really made the best of some marginal hands.

It was a two-day tournament, so I should by rights have been dealt every possible starting hand: Aces at least once (they should come every eight hours or so), AK three times. But no – my best pocket pair was Kings, just once, and the next best tens, just once. My highest Ace was AQ, just once.

So how did I go deep? This is the kind of creative play I’ve learned from playing cash at the PokerStars Live Lounge at the Hippodrome – I’m sharing in the hope that poker-playing readers will pick up some strategy tips:

  1. Sniffing out a bluff

I have 78 of clubs. The blinds are still low (500 on a starting stack of 25k), so I can afford to call a 1.5k raise. We’re four-handed when a scare flop comes 99Q with two spades and a diamond. Nothing there for me. It’s checked round. The turn is an 8, bringing a second diamond, and a pair for me. We all check to the initial button raiser, who bets 5k. The others fold, and I call with my bottom pair.

This is where it gets interesting. When I check the river of a 5 of diamonds, hoping I’ll be ahead on the showdown with my humble pair but knowing he may well have a pair of Queens, a higher pocket pair or even slow-played trips, the raiser makes it 12.5k.

Some people would fold automatically, but instead I think it through. The 5 of diamonds is actually a key card here, because it completes a backdoor flush and a 5-9 straight: both are hands I might have been drawing to when I called the turn. If he has a pair, or even if he was slow-playing trip 9s, there’s no way he’d value-bet that river. Why bet when he’s only getting called by a bigger hand? So he either has a monster – a house or at minimum a backdoor flush – or else he’s bluffing.

That’s what they call a “polarised” range. From listening to the guy talking to his neighbour, I know he’s a pro; therefore he is capable of bluffing for pretty nearly his whole stack. And he doesn’t “feel” strong.

If I call and get it wrong, I’m down to 7k – crippled. But if I get it right, I’ve nearly doubled up. I make the call. He had KJ for a failed gutshot, and the whole table gasps when I show just a pair of 8s.

Your take-home: if they are a pro player and you put them on a failed draw, you can call a river bet with a small pair. I’ve even done so with Queen high.

  1. Turning a draw into a bluff

I make one bluff early on when I float a tiny flop bet with air and a third suited card comes on the turn. I’ve been playing tight, so when I bet it, both players fold. Easy stuff. But there’s a more interesting bluff, as it relies strongly on a read:

I have Q8 of clubs in the small blind. There’s one limp, I call, and the big blind checks. The flop comes  Ace high, with two clubs for a flush draw. So of course I bet. The big blind calls.

The turn is a second Ace. I bet again. The big blind calls again. Weird. What’s he calling with? The flush draw maybe? In that case, mine is bigger. Has he hit a small pair? What gives me strength is that I know for sure he hasn’t got an Ace. And I know this, even though he has only just sat down at the table, simply because he has a card protector in front of him that says “Online Turbo Tournament Champion”. There is no way in hell that a guy like that with any kind of Ace in the big blind would not have raised pre-flop.

Yet another Ace comes on the river. Three Aces on the board! Any kind of pair now has made a house. Any Ace has now got quads. I only have Q high. I may even be ahead, though I still need to push him off a possible small pair. I bet convincingly small, less than half the pot. He folds, and everyone congratulates me on my “quad Aces”.  The big blind later admitted he was calling with 8 high, intending to bluff me later, but you can’t bluff a man who so obviously “has” quads!

Your take-home: Conversely, you can easily turn your own failed draw into a bluff, if you have a read that your opponent is weak.

  1. Turning bad position into good position

It’s day two of the tournament, and there’s a loose big-stack raising so often that he can’t have a hand each time. That kind of person you have to re-raise, never call. So when he raises my blind to 6.5k and I have AJ, I re-raise to 15k. He calls. Impulsively, I check in the dark. Why? Because he has position over me, and he’s an aggressive player. If I have to make a continuation bet on the flop, he can re-raise if he hits, or fold or float or bluff if he doesn’t, and I won’t know where I am. I want to keep the initiative, and keep him confused. It works. He frowns, baffled and off-balance.

The flop comes King high, all clubs, and he… checks. For all he knows, I have a flush, or AK; even an aggressive player would struggle to bluff that flop in the dark. Blissfully, the turn is a fourth club. I have none of this flop, but it doesn’t matter. Even with no information, I know he is less than 50% to hold a club in his two hole cards (less than 50%, because there are only 9 clubs left out of 46 unknown cards). But I do have information: he checked the all-club flop. Whereas I checked in the dark, so he learned nothing. So I am safe to bet here as though I have a club, and see him fold. That’s just what happens.

Your take-home: If there are four suited cards on the board, make a small river bet. Unless you are known as an aggressive, bluffing player, a bet of half or even a third of the pot gives you a greater than 50% chance of forcing a fold.

  1. Value-betting and bluffing at the same time

I have KJ unsuited in early position. Not a wonderful tournament hand in early position when the blinds are dangerously high, but one of the best I’ve seen all day, so I raise, and get two callers. The flop comes K high. Good. But when I bet, I get one call. There is a flush draw out there, but it doesn’t “feel” like he has one, it “feels” like he has a King. But what’s his kicker? It ought to be at least KJ, maybe KQ, to call a tight player raising from early position. The turn is a second 3. I check, he bets. I could give up now, but hell, I have top pair with a decent kicker. But I won’t raise, because he’s likely only folding with a worse kicker than mine. So I call. See what happens on the river.

The river is an Ace. Brilliant. If I’m right that he has a King, I can be sure he hasn’t got an Ace. This guy is wearing a baseball cap; he would definitely have re-raised AK pre-flop. So I instantly grasp that I can bet the Ace safely. And the fascinating thing about this bet is that it is at the same time a bluff and a value bet.

It’s a bluff because if he has KQ, I’m losing, and with KJ we’re chopping, but I have a good chance of pushing him off the hand by representing the Ace. It will make total sense to him that I should have one:  I raised pre-flop, made a continuation bet on the flop, check-called the turn when he showed strength, and then raised the river when the Ace came. So “of course” I spiked an Ace.

But it’s also a value bet, because if he has K10, or K9, which is possible for a guy wearing a baseball cap especially if they were suited, and he does somehow summon up the courage for a hero call, then I make extra money. He dwells ages, so I know he had some kind of King, before folding, cursing the river.

Your take-home: Always be prepared to change your tactics to adjust to new cards on each street.

  1. When all else fails, you do need a little luck!

My second best hand in the whole tournament is AQ, shortly after the bubble bursts. So when I finally get it, you’re damn right I re-raise it. Following a bet of 10k and one call, I make it 25k. They both call. The flop comes Queen high, with a 5 and a 4, no flush draw. Hallelujah! I bet 45k, and get one fold, and one very slow call from the shorter stack. He’s either very strong, with trips, and slow-playing it – a real possibility, though at least I can rule out two pairs – or he has a weaker Queen. Hard to tell from the betting action, but it no longer matters: he has only 65k left, with 170k already in the pot. I can’t fold.

So I’m jamming the turn whatever comes (it’s a 2), at which he snap-calls. Yep, he has pocket 5s for trips. Even a third Queen won’t help me, as it would give him a house. I’ll still have 100k left from the stack I’ve painstakingly built, but this sucks. And just then… a genuine miracle from the Poker Gods. The river is a 3, giving me a runner-runner straight.

I like to think this is karmic payback for my bad starting hands this weekend, or for all the times my Aces have been cracked by Kings or Queens in tournaments past. But really, it’s just the glorious, infuriating, crazy, random thing about poker. You can concentrate hard and make great reads and play your best game, but you’ll usually need some shot of dumb good luck, somewhere along the line, to reach the final table. It’s why we love poker and get furious with poker but keep coming back to it: it’s unpredictable and ever-changeable, with no two hands the same.

And what did I do to celebrate my eventual £1,600 final-table win, you might ask?

Well duh. I went straight back up to the PokerStars Live Lounge balcony to play for cash.

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Top ten writing tips from Lynda La Plante, creator of Prime Suspect

30 Oct
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Lynda la Plante: currently working on a prequel to Prime Suspect

After a diversion to report on the Brixton Ritzy strike, it’s back to my daily reports from the London Screenwriters’ Festival. One of the giants of crime writing gave a hugely entertaining talk: Lynda La Plante, creator of Prime Suspect. Here are her ten tips:

1. Write like a transvestite trucker. I was an actress [in cop shows like Z Cars and The Sweeney] before I was a writer. I had a role with dialogue that made no sense, so I thought, Can I have a go? I went off and wrote three short treatments. They were all rejected, but there was one, Widows, where someone had scrawled across it, “This is brilliant.”

So I sent it to [veteran producer] Verity Lambert, but decided I wouldn’t put my acting name on, but instead put “Lynda La Plante”. When she called me in, she looked up and said, “Oh no, you’re not Lynda La Plante, are you?” Because she knew me as an actress. “We thought it was a transvestite trucker!” She told me to write episode one.

2. Make sure you have a killer treatment. My treatment for Widows started like this: “Four men planning a raid blow themselves up with their own explosives. These men left four widows: Dolly Rawlins, Shirley Miller, Linda Pirelli and Bella O’Reilly. Bereft by the loss of her beloved husband, Dolly Rawlins finds weapons, money and a detailed map of the robbery, and knows where it went wrong. She approaches the other widows and says ‘I will pay you to work alongside me and do the robbery.’” But I didn’t know how to write it from there.

3. Do your research. So I went to source.  On every TV unit there’s always someone who’s done a bit of time, so I contacted one and said I needed to find some criminals. He’s like, “Oh yeh darlin’? What sort?” “Bad ones.” “Murderers?” “Yes.” He took me to the Thomas A Beckett pub, where the Krays hung out. He said, “Do you remember that bloke who fed the bodies to the pigs on a farm?” I said yes, not knowing at all. He said, “Right, here he is. John? Come and meet Lynda.”

Then I went to prison visits, met prisoners’ wives, widows. There was one who was tough, worked a greengrocery, and Dolly began to shape. I went to the police, they said they’d help me – I had no idea of police procedure. You show respect, and just ask.

4. Know how to keep your mouth shut. I’d had one big hit with Widows, then had various commissions that had all fallen down so was feeling a bit bruised. I was learning another big lesson – to keep my mouth shut in meetings. Instead I started off, I really need to know what you’re looking for. She said, “What we really want is a woman in a leading role, working on a murder investigation.” I said, “I’ve been working on that!” Which I hadn’t. She then said, “And we want her in plainclothes.” I said, “Yes, I’ve been working on just that!”

She said, “What’s it called?” The gods were on my side: I came out with, “Prime Suspect”. She said that sounded perfect, just what they were looking for! So I agreed to bring in a treatment.

Helen Mirren as Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison

Helen Mirren as Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison

5. Do still more research. The first thing I did was phone the police and ask for a high-ranking woman detective. “No problem, we have three.” Only three! That was the first insight. So I go in to meet one, and in comes my prototype for Jane Tennison: DCI Jackie Malton. She would say the male officers were so desperate to elbow her out that when they got the call to scramble the squad cars, her rank would put her in the front seat, but she got her hand caught in the door three or four times because they didn’t want to let her in.

6. Keep one step ahead of the audience. People love crime fiction, because it’s a game. They say, “I know who did it – now trick me.” I will outwit you again and again. You think you know who the killer is? No you don’t. That’s respecting an adult audience, not decapitations and blood everywhere.

7. Break the rules – for a reason. I went for a split screen on Trial and Retribution because I had become so involved in forensics [La Plante is the only non-scientist to have been given an honorary fellowship by the Forensic Science Society], and was fascinated by the process of removing a single hair from a button, unwinding it bit by bit so as not to snap it, because the bulb at the end of the hair has DNA. How do you put that on screen, without the viewer making their cup of tea and going, “What, are they still on that button?” So that’s why I did the split screen, so the action could carry on. I did not copy 24. They came to me to find out how I was doing split screen.

8. Be prepared to fight your corner. When I suggested the split screen to the head of ITV, he said, “No, most people have 16-inch screens.” So I said, “Most old ladies watching this can also have eight cards of Bingo and do them all at the same time.” He said, “You’re bloody right, let’s go for it!”

9. Someday, you may want to set up your own company. It’s depressing for writers sometimes when they present a script, and they just go thank you very much. Then editors, producers and actors all have a hand in it. Towards the end of Prime Suspect, there were too many voices telling me where the character should go, which I didn’t always agree with. Then there’s the budget – you’ll write “four patrol cars steam up”, and they’ll say in the meeting, we’ll just have one.

10. And of course, know your characters’ background. I was at a book signing and this fan asked me in a Q&A, where did Jane Tennison come from? And I didn’t really know! It was astonishing. I had no idea. I kept thinking of this: where did she get that cold, aloof exterior, that iron will? So I’m working on a Prime Suspect prequel [book out in 2015, with TV series to follow in 2016] where Jane Tennison is aged 22, a probationary officer working in Hackney police station, fresh as a daisy. Ha ha!

For Tony “Life on Mars” Jordan’s equally entertaining tips from the festival, click here.

Cannes confessions #6: the night time is the right time

21 May

Whoever said “Man cannot live by canapés alone” (they do say that, don’t they?) clearly has never been to the Cannes Film Festival. The place is a ligger’s paradise: every major film-making country has a pavilion, each one hosting receptions; the Croisette beach is lined with party marquees; and that’s without even counting the regular hotel ballrooms and nightclubs.

Veteran Canneites swap tips on how to smuggle extra people in – from walking purposefully past talking the doormen in someone’s slipstream talking into a mobile phone, to getting a stamp on your way out for a cigarette and then pressing it to your friend’s wrist before it’s had time to dry. Director Paul Wiffen, with whom I spent a fair bit of time, is a master of the art, having been to 16 Cannes Festivals. Someone really should ask him to write a book of Cannes Film Festival astuces, as he calls his clever wheezes, so if there are any publishers reading this…

There is truth, however, to the phrase “No such thing as a free lunch.” Every drink must be paid for excruciatingly in speeches, most of them barely audible and in a foreign language. And so I can exclusively report, from the ballroom of the Majestic Hotel with the Princess of Thailand in attendance flanked by kneeling flunkies, the exciting news that Thailand is proud of its film industry; ditto for the Russians; ditto for the Locarno Film Festival. As to the Swiss, for all I know they make atrocious films as efforts to gain access to their woefully disorganised bash on the beach were rebuffed.

The best party I went to was for Four Senses, starring former Miss Switzerland Nadine Vinzens and described by the wonderfully named producer Omar Kaczmarczyk (pronounced “Cash-my-cheque”) as an “eromantic” adventure. (The movie, he clearly believes, is so ground-breaking that it necessitates a whole new word.) Though I am still eager to hear the rest of charismatic director/writer Gabriel Murray’s Hamlet story, as I was called away to dinner too early…

And of course, poker fiend that I am, I couldn’t resist trying out the Croisette Barrière Casino, which a couple of years ago wrested the World Series of Poker Europe away from London’s Empire Casino. The cash games there are brutal, with minimum blinds of 5-10, but I figured it would be a novel way to meet top producers, and so it proved: one ended up sitting to my left.

He was in a foul temper, however, cursing every unlucky break, and in no mood to chat to an aspiring film-maker. My British modesty didn’t help. After I guessed correctly that he was a producer (he had a Festival pass round his neck, and was playing high-stakes poker, so duh), he asked what I did. “I’m a journalist,” I say, “but I also have a film I’ve co-written at the festival.” And then, apologetically – “It’s only a short, playing in the Court Métrage. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.”

At that, he turned away. I have to learn not to be so bloody British. Still, it meant I felt no guilt when I flopped two pairs to crack his pocket Aces, and he exited soon after, hurling his final chip angrily at the dealer with appallingly bad grace.

So let’s abandon all British reserve now and toot my own horn. The next night I played a 30-person tournament at the casino, and came fourth after eight hours’ play. Not too shabby. Good training for the WSOP Millionaire Maker tournament in Vegas the weekend after this…!

For my recent Cannes despatches, read my first IBT article first, with the opening night gala and towering celebrity tales. Then my tips for festival virgins; hanging with the Bond spoofers; and streakers, lesbian love-ins and Nuke ‘Em High with the Troma crew. Plus picture-gallery here, and my final IBT article, on outrageous Cannes publicity stunts, here

For more about my own film in the Short Film Corner, Colonel Badd, see outtakes here and posters here.

Come back tomorrow for more on Cannes.

Cannes confessions, #1: top tips for festival virgins

16 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sun has finally burst through the clouds, and I’m sitting writing this by a pool on a hill with a view of the white-walled town and the deep blue sea. Yes, you can be jealous now, because I’ve finally made it back to Cannes for the Film Festival.

The last time I was here, it was 1997 and I was Editor of Time Out, with VIP access to all the most glamorous parties. It’s a great story, and I’ve just written about the highlights, plus an account of last night’s star-studded opening gala, for the International Business Timeshere — you should definitely read that first.

Now I’m in Cannes as a film-maker, with Colonel Badd, a short comedy I co-wrote with the director Tony Errico, accepted into the Short Film Corner. (More about Colonel Badd, which takes the form of an interview with a retired supervillain, here.)

Cannes is a crazy, wonderful, chaotic festival which every aspiring film-maker should experience at least once. I had very little clue how it worked before I rocked up yesterday. But I’m learning fast. Here are my top tips so far:

— Accommodation. I found a terrific two-bed flat near the Palais for £800 a week. Cheap by festival standards, when prices triple, but not so stupidly cheap as to be suspicious. I discovered too late I’d been scammed. Police and banks alerted (gosh they move slowly in a crisis), but money I think irrecoverable. The next cheap flat I found, for which I was also asked for a bank transfer, I Googled the owner, found her office number, and talked to her secretary to make sure. Top tip: Book very early (or very late) for the best deals; find flatmates to book an apartment or house with rather than get a hotel; try to be within walking distance of the Palais.

— Transport. Flying is cheaper than the train, but the coach from Nice to Cannes is a nightmare. Three times as many people as there are seats crowd into a disorderly queue. You’d think they might put on more than the usual half-hourly coach on the opening day of the festival, but no; everything in France is “réglementaire”, by the book, whether or not it makes sense. In my desperation to get to the Palais before accreditation shut I overcame the problem, I am ashamed to admit, by jumping the queue. And even then I had to plead with the driver in French that my “compagnons de voyage” were already inside, as they wouldn’t let me on with luggage. Top tip: don’t queue by the bus doors; go round the side and get your bags in the hold sharpish. The driver calls for people with stored bags to get on first.

— Accreditation. Cannes operates on a complex system of colour codes and badges, with access to certain areas and screenings and not others depending on your status. Without accreditation, all you can do is chat to people in bars. Top tip: Make a short film and submit it to the Court Métrage/Short Film Corner, and they give you two accreditations. Thank you Tony Errico for mine.

— Screenings. This works on a points system. They started me off with 100 points, plus I get 2 extra points for every hour spent in Cannes, like a casino loyalty programme. Popular screenings at popular times cost 100 points; others cost 50 or even 30. It actually makes a strange kind of sense. Until I discover that Tony Errico, as producer, gets none. Go figure. Top tip: You usually book from computer terminals inside the Palais, but now they also offer an app that lets you book from your iPhone or similar. You can only book 24 hours in advance.

And that’s enough for now. Right, I’m off to see where this wild ride will take me… Click here for my second despatch from Cannes. Plus photo-gallery here.