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Advanced Cash Clinic
I was so impressed with the WPT Boot Camp advanced Tournament Clinic, I jumped at the opportunity to attend their advanced cash version. The WPT staff believes the advanced Cash Clinic should be dynamic in nature, allowing the course to follow a direction the students choose to take. It addresses weaknesses and leaks that people see in their own games as well as delivers the type of information that students are most interested in. Lead instructor Nick Brancato believes, "This allows us to cater to the needs of the class. If we kept it structured, every camp would be similar. Our goal for the clinics and lab days is to provide a model of continuing education, where the experience will always be different and you can benefit by attending multiple times.” There are fewer lectures and greater emphasis is placed on the demo labs and four computer challenges, where each student plays out a series of 25 hands which are later replayed and analyzed by the panel of instructors.
The curriculum is more than just a series of plays and tactics; it attempts to heighten our awareness and alter the way we think about poker. One goal is to move us from thinking about absolute hand strength into how various card combinations play postflop and how to stack our opponents. A great example of absolute versus relative hand strength is a situation where you're against five opponents. You would rather see the flop holding a hand like 5-6 suited than A-K. When you flop top pair with A-K and your hand is good, it's usually difficult for you to win a large pot because one pair type of hands like A-K suffer terribly from reverse implied odds. It’s easy to lose a big pot but hard to win a big one. A hand like pocket deuces or 5-6 suited gives you the opportunity to win a big pot but it's rare that you'll lose big.
When you have only 20 or 30 big blinds, as is often the case in a tournament, it’s difficult to get away from top pair and you probably shouldn't. So there are no difficult decisions on the turn and river. However, to get all the chips in the middle with 100 big blinds or more (typical stacks in a cash game) takes multiple aggressive actions like raises and re-raises or bets across three streets to get all-in. Those things tend to only happen when your opponents have very strong hands. The deeper the stacks, the more important it is to have a very strong holding when all the chips go in. I've been guilty of overplaying these types of hands in cash games and losing some big pots. During a demo lab while discussing how K-10 plays in a multiway pot with top pair, Brancato explained, “Pocket Aces will lose more often than not against four opponents, so what do you think happens with K-10?”
It's impossible to recount every topic and tactic covered and each student had a different experience. Points that had an impact on me included continuation raising and guidelines on when and how to play suited connectors, one-gappers, two-gappers and suited aces in deep-stack play. I learned that when an opponent made a smallish bet into me when I was the preflop aggressor, they are asking, "Is my hand good?" Most of the time, your answer should be an emphatic no! That situation arose during the computer challenge in a three-way pot. The fact that there was a third party involved made the continuation raise look even more powerful. I've subsequently tried this play on a few occasions and it worked every time. Before the clinic, I had never voluntarily put in money with 5-2 suited, but in a limped multiway pot on the button, I called. With a flop of J-10-6 with two of my suit, I fired a two-thirds pot sized bet and got one caller. The turn brought a four improving my draw to now include a gutshot. I fired again and was called. An off-suit deuce hit the river giving me basically nothing and I fired a third barrel. That’s something I learned to do at the clinic, to balance my betting range. So when my big draws (12 outs or more) miss, I fire again. Because I can’t only bet my big hands across all three streets or I will be highly readable, I have to include some bluffs. That’s exactly what I did here, taking down the pot. I felt a sense of exhilaration; that’s a play I never would have made in the past.
Our instructors constantly emphasized aggression and my approach to the game shifted somewhat upon hearing details from a study. While analyzing 103 million no-limit hold’em hands, across all stakes high and low, it was found that that only 24.3% of all hands go to showdown. In most cases, it makes no difference how strong your hand is, because more than three-quarters of all winning hands are never seen. Nick explained, "The two cards you hold is a secondary factor to whether or not you should continue in a hand. The most important factor is not whether my hand is good, but rather can I take down the pot?” Because I'm playing much smaller stakes online to test various tactics, I've taken aggression to a new level and I'm thrilled with my results. In ideal situations, I am raising with hands that I would have limped or folded. I'm four-betting with hands I would have previously folded and taking down pots I would have given up on before.
Using the Internet as a poker training and proving ground was emphasized. Getting comfortable with a variety of techniques and tactics can be accomplished at much smaller stakes online than is possible playing live. The Internet also gives you the ability to statistically prove something works as opposed to the guesswork of live play. We went over in detail how to use these key tools to assess our play. I’ve been incorporating clinic tactics in Internet cash games and though the numbers are not yet statistically significant, I am encouraged by my results.
Many students want to jump into the advanced cash clinic, but the preliminary cash camp is a prerequisite. Attendee Marco De La Cuesta sums up the curricula stating, “I think the differences in the camps are in the nuances. At the cash camp you're learning what you should do, a fundamental approach that lays out the framework for everything. In the advanced clinic, you start to understand why you do things in specific situations, and it builds on the fundamentals to integrate advanced concepts, which gave me more confidence to make plays.” His wife Allison added, "That deeper understanding also allows you to adjust your play.” Raphael Bloom only planned on attending the first camp, but after experiencing how good that was, decided to stay for the advanced clinic. Rafael, who felt that he was a competent player, told me, “At the end of the first camp, I realized that I was so bad that I didn't even deserve to walk into a poker room. There was so much information that I almost couldn't absorb it all. Poker is a new game to me now, like I'm playing for the first time. I think anybody that's serious at all about playing poker has got to do something like this…it will change your world."
Brancato’s teaching background is what makes the WPT Boot Camp educational philosophy flourish. Nick enthusiastically stated, "I love doing it. I think my background, I have a Masters in education, has helped us to develop an advanced curriculum and deliver it in a way that's easy to understand. A big part of getting better at poker or improving at anything in general is that you first must know what you don't know and what information you need to get hold of so that you begin to understand it. I feel like teaching these camps has allowed me to identify what aspects of poker people do and don't understand.” WPT Boot Camp instructor Todd Brunson believes, “Absolutely any poker player can benefit from attending a camp, from beginner to professional. Nick Binger (co-instructor) and I were just talking and he told me that after teaching one of these, he actually plays better. I have to agree. I absolutely benefited and I play in the biggest games in the world. At the cash camp you'll learn what traps to stay out of and how to maximize your hands, how to play position, how to raise properly, all the key fundamentals. You'll learn about the things you're doing wrong and how to fix those leaks. Poker is an art, not a science. There's not just one way to do things and that's one of the great things about poker.”
Everyone I interviewed was extremely satisfied with their experience. Cliff Hand, referring to his wife Su stated, "She got a lot out of it. She was beaming. I got a lot of value too.” Ben Paul said, "This was a great experience. Like going to college, if you don't do something like this, you're going to be way behind others that do. I’m a more well-rounded player after the flop. You see the game in a whole new light." Melinda Rayter added, “Nick is wonderful. He knows how to teach and that's the key to learning. You can have a famous poker pro standing up there but if he doesn't know how to teach, you're not going to learn.”