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Finally! A Crash Course for Cash Players
WPT Boot Camp Will Take Your Game To The Next Level
Like any serious player, I’m always looking to learn more about this fascinating, challenging and sometimes maddening game. I’m willing to take my lessons where I find them, but I admit that I didn’t necessarily expect to be blown away by a course crafted for players at every level, from the rankest beginners to guys who’ve been winning consistently for years. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the World Poker Tour Boot Camp’s Cash Camp Edition, a two-day No-Limit Hold’em course that takes you through every aspect of cash-game play, from preflop decision-making to bankroll management.
The WPT Boot Camp offers both a cash game and a tournament edition, and each course covers completely different material. Many of the instructors, however, are skilled in both, including the Pro instructors at my camp in Orlando, who are generous and accessible teachers.
All the instructors made themselves thoroughly available, not only to answer questions during class but also to talk with students on breaks and at meals. Since instructor availability is one of the key selling points promoted by the WPT Boot Camps, I’m happy to report that, at my camp at least, students seemed to get lots of individualized attention from the instructors.
The Boot Camp format lends itself to personalized attention. A few times throughout the camp, the lecture format breaks down into labs: Each instructor deals to a table of students, who show their cards after every hand so the instructor can comment on the students’ play. Students get the opportunity to take labs with several different instructors.
The pros at the camp I attended included Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and Nick Binger, who recently won the main event at the Venetian Deep Stack series. Doing a lot of the heavy lifting at every Cash Camp are online pros Nick Brancato and Rick Fuller. One of the new generation of online players, “Nicky Numbers” has logged more than 2 million hands online, which is probably more than Doyle Brunson has played live. Seasoned pro Rick Fuller has made numerous final tables, including three at the WSOP.
Clearly, this group of player/instructors was the real deal, and the lineups at other WPT Boot Camps are equally impressive, featuring such lead instructors as Todd Brunson, Gavin Smith, Kathy Liebert, Mike Sexton, Linda Johnson and Eric “Rizen” Lynch.
Getting Down to It
The course began with a detailed discussion of how cash play is different from tournament strategy, something that many players fail to understand. This is an especially important point because, if you visit your local bookstore looking for a strategy guide, you’ll find that most of the shelf space is taken up with tournament books. Deep-stack cash play – where you’re able to buy in for 100 or more big blinds – is a whole different animal from tournament poker, where even the best players tend to find themselves short-stacked for large portions of an event. Cash games are most pros’ bread and butter, so if you want to get in on this lucrative “market,” you must know and understand the strategy and tactics completely.
The pros moved quickly but thoroughly through such fundamentals as “straddles” (Mississippi – good; under-the-gun, not so profitable) and table selection (picking the right game can be the most important decision you make). Then they went on to a detailed discussion of bankroll management, which really separates the serious player from the guy who’s condemned to stick with low limits for the rest of his career. Knowing what kind of bankroll you need to play well, so you can ride out this high-variance game without playing scared or stupid, is crucial for No-Limit Hold’em success. So is a good understanding of when, how and why to move up limits, and when to start paying yourself.
Speaking of bankroll, I was interested to hear Matusow confess that he’d really fallen down in this area, not just once but throughout his career. However, Matusow told us, he considers bankroll management one of the most important aspects of the game and he’s been working hard to get better at it.
Looking at Odds
Most of the rest of Day 1 focused on poker basics and preflop play: pot odds, implied odds, position and the art of making effective raises and reraises. Rick Fuller warned that most players tend to cite “implied odds” way too often as an excuse for ignoring pot odds. Implied odds factor in money a player expects to win if he hits his hand, but this is a judgment call many players get wrong.
Then, as the first day drew to a close, online pro Brancato offered a thorough discussion of online play: the best playing times, how to choose a table, techniques for playing multiple tables, the best programs for tracking your results and ways to take advantage of bonuses and rakebacks.
I was intrigued with Brancato’s perspective: He didn’t just talk about online poker as a way to make lots of money (which he apparently does, since he multi-tables eight high-stakes games at a time), but instead focused on Internet poker as a way to exponentially improve your game.
“If you want to improve as quickly as possible, you simply have to play online,” Brancato said, adding that you can still learn a lot even if you’re playing stakes as low as .10-.25. “If you approach online play with a commitment to learn, you will learn,” he insisted.
On to Day 2
Day 2 of the Cash Camp took us through postflop play, with detailed discussions of key postflop situations: when you miss the flop, when you flop a big hand, when you flop a draw. The instructors explored a variety of turn and river situations as well: when your draw hits, when your draw misses, when you should check, when you should bet. The camp was especially strong at explaining how to size your bets for maximum effect.
What impressed me about Day 2 was the way it worked for students at all levels. If you were just starting to learn the game, you could focus in on the fundamentals, things like how to make a continuation bet and how to count your outs on a draw. If you were more experienced, however, you had the opportunity to hear some of the game’s top players analyze hands in great detail. I especially enjoyed hearing Nick Binger, who explained the reasoning behind turn and river play on several tricky hands.
One of the highlights of the camp was when the teachers disagreed with one another and then explained the reasoning behind their different opinions. These moments really brought home what an individual game No-Limit Hold’em really is. We all have to find the style that works for us – but we should have a solid reason for every decision we make.
The Pros wrapped up the day’s instruction with a discussion of tilt – how not to go on it, and no discussion of tilt would be complete without Mike Matusow. Mike shared the time he got so frustrated with an online game that he actually threw his computer in the pool – and it wasn’t a laptop.
The course ended with the computerized Cash Camp Challenge, where attendees played an identical group of hands using an artificial-intelligence program. The winner got a free week-long poker trip to the Caribbean – not a bad “extra!”
The real prize, though, was all that extra poker knowledge and the chance to hear Pros share their experiences at the tables.
I came away thinking that any serious player should consider spending a weekend at a WPT Boot Camp. I’m glad I did.