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Best of Ryan McLane
I have the world's most difficult job. Sitting at my desk, trying to come up with interesting story ideas for my Casino City readers, I stumbled upon a link advertising poker lessons with World Series of Poker Champion Tom McEvoy.
A flurry of emails got me in contact with Tom and several days later he agreed to instruct me on No-Limit Texas Hold'Em tournament play if I would promote his business through my articles. Hmm…ok.
Like I said – tough job.
It was pretty much all I could think about for a week and when our lesson date finally came around, I pretended to do work all day when really all I was thinking about was how Tom was going to turn me into a professional player.
I couldn't stand it anymore. I called Tom five minutes before 1 p.m. After several rings, a distraught McEvoy answered the phone.
"Hey Tom this is Ryan from Casino City. Are you ready for our lesson?"
"Hi Ryan…uh, actually I'm still in the shower…"
"Oh my God, I'm sorry…wait, you mean you're actually in the shower?"
"Yeah, can you call me back?"
"Sure…uh, enjoy yourself." Click.
Lesson # 1 – Don't call Tom McEvoy early.
I did better on the second try. Tom was all clean and ready to teach. I, still mortified, pulled out my notebook, turned on the recorder, and tried to remain professional. I quipped that it was usually a bad idea to call people early. He didn't laugh.
Although Tom prefers to do interviews in person (thank God I wasn't early for that), he does just as many over the phone. The way it works is quite simple. He logs on to one of his eight online poker room sites and has his student do the same. Since I play primarily on Party Poker, we agreed to meet at a Party table.
On Party Poker, McEvoy plays anonymously. When he told me his screen name, I recognized it as one of my regular opponents at the sit-and-go tables.
"Wait, that's you Tom?"
"Yeah I play here all the time."
"I recognize the name. I think I've beaten you before."
"No, I recognize you too. You've never beaten me."
Lesson # 2 – Don't bluff a former World Champion.
Since I had to take notes and record action for my articles, we agreed that Tom would sit down at the table and instruct me based on his cards and play. I told him I thought this was a good idea for one of two reasons: 1.) I'm a hard worker and needed to diligently write down information, or 2.) I didn't want the 1983 WSOP Main Event Champion to see how badly I play. I'll let you decide which is true.
He sat down at a $200+$15 sit-and-go. In these mini tournaments, 10 people sit down and play until one person has all the chips. The prize money is based off the $200 everyone wagers. Typically, sites pay three spots. In this tournament, first place would receive $1000, second place $600, and third place $400. Based on my own experiences at these tables, I can't quite say how the money is sent to your account if you win, but I am absolutely positive that if you finish out of the top three, you're guaranteed nothing.
We begin with 2000 chips and blind levels at 20 and 40. Tom is on the button has an 8T offsuit. The rest of the table folds to him and I'm anxious to get betting. Surprising to me, Tom folds quickly and doesn't try and steal the blinds.
"You're not going to try a fancy move and steal the blinds Tom?"
"What steal 60 chips…with this crap?"
"Exactly what I was thinking. Nice decision."
Lesson # 3 – Make sure when you steal there's a proper reward for your risk.
The tournament continues with Tom doing a ton of folding. He's pretty much following the formula of play he lays out in his books. Play tight early on in tournaments and don't take any chances that will hurt your stack.
He talks for a bit about the tendency of people to overplay their hands early. He doesn't chide these players; he simply uses it to his advantage. On cue, three people go all in at the same time, removing two opponents from our tournament. McEvoy has yet to risk a chip and there's only eight players left.
Lesson # 4 – Let other players make mistakes early, improving your odds of cashing.
On the seventh hand of play, Tom picks up a pair of wired sevens. He is in early position. He tells me he likes to play this "marginal" hand on the cheap. True to his word, he limps in and faces no raisers. He's now in a fourhanded pot with 160 chips in the middle. The flop comes an ugly Jc-Kd-8d. I expect the pro to immediately bet at the pot, using his World Series bracelet to scare the other players out of the pot. He mucks his hand and I am forced to query.
"Tom, no bluff there, I mean you're fricking Tom MCEVOY?"
"They can't see me online Ryan, I play anonymously."
Lesson # 5 – When out of position, no set, no bet.
Another mini-lesson comes one hand later. Under the gun, Tom receives a tempting eight and seven of clubs. I've read all the books. I know the pros love to play these speculative hands out of position to confuse and outplay their opponents post-flop. Again, Tom immediately mucks.
"Those are chip burners," he tells me. "I like those hands in the right position, but under the gun, I can't take even a small re-raise with eight high. It doesn't matter much that they're suited. Position is far more important here. Also, if I play those types of hand, I like to raise it up. If I'm first in the pot, I'm coming out with a raise. In this position, if I raise and then face a re-raise, I've basically thrown away my chips."
Lesson # 6 – Don't burn chips out of position.
Lesson # 7 – If you're the first in the pot, raise it up.
As if the poker gods know I'm getting a lesson, Tom receives Js 10s in the big blind, one of my favorite hands to play. He tells me he'll see a cheap flop with this hand and he hopes that no one raises the pot. Second position raises four times the big blind. Fourth position makes a huge re-raise. Everyone else folds, including Tom.
He tells me JT suited is perhaps the most overplayed hand on the Internet save AK. It's a drawing hand at best and when facing a double raise, chances are someone has an over pair meaning he'd be drawing as a major underdog. Had no one raised pre-flop, he would have raised with this hand from the big blind, but he was perfectly content to lay it down once he felt pressure.
Lesson # 8 – J-10 suited is vastly overplayed online hand and is a great example of lessons 6 and 7 being ignored.
Tom's first real hand came when he was under the gun. Looking at a wired pair of eights, Tom quickly mucked them. He explains, "With speculative hands, I am only willing to put in 10 percent of my stack or less. Out of position, I'm wary to put any money in because a raise would put me above my 10 percent mark. I'll muck these eights and wait for a better hand."
I reluctantly agreed. When two raises came later in the hand, I immediately vowed never to overplay my eights again and finally decided that indeed Tom was a better player than me.
Lesson # 8 – Speculative hands deserve no more than 10 percent of your stack and even then, you're still gambling.
At this point I'm itching for Tom to play a hand, but he's content to wax on about poker. It's a game of patience he tells me, if you don't have patience, you're dead money. I do my best to pretend I'm also a patient player, to which he says…
"I can tell you're not a patient player."
"Me? I'm a rock Tom."
"No your not. Work on that."
On hand 20, Tom and I (yes I'm pretending we're a team now) get an A-9 suited on the button and decide to come in for a raise that is three times the big blind. He tosses in 195 chips, putting pressure on big blind. That person has already committed 60 chips and if he's been paying attention, he knows Tom is a tight player.
"Why not just double the blind Tom and throw in 120 chips."
"Because that's sign of weakness. He might sense the weakness and come over the top and then we've wasted chips a bunch of chips."
"Yeah but Tom, if we put in more chips then we've wasted even more chips if he re-raises."
"Yes, but if he re-raises our larger bet, he's got a big hand and we can easily fold our mediocre hand. That's the type of information we want and if he folds, we took down the pot and set up a play for the future."
"Never mind just watch."
The big blind thought for a while, then folded. Tom collected the blinds without putting up much of his stack. Again I'm humbled. I pretend to know what just happened and tell Tom nice hand. He says thanks.
Lesson # 9 – Something important about stealing blinds with minimal risk that I still don't exactly grasp.
We finally jump into the action on hand 25. This time in the big blind, Tom picks up pocket queens and his voice kicks it up a notch. "Ok, this is what you want, a big hand in the big blind. Let's hope someone makes a marginal raise and we can take this pot down without even seeing the flop."
Play is folded around to the button. On cue, the button raises it up to 275 chips. We're playing 50 and 100 blinds so Tom tells me this is a decent move by the button, putting enough pressure to make the blinds fold while still masking his own hand's strength. Little does the button know, we have pocket Queens.
Tom decides to raise it up. He tells me he wants to bring it up to 500 chips and get the button to fold. As I watch the screen, 800 chips fly into the middle and Tom mutters a few curse words. Apparently, Tom hit the wrong button.
"This happens from time to time. A lot of the time on sites where people play professionals, they get mad because the professionals are playing 'poorly.' Sometimes, they just hit the wrong button and got lucky. It happened to my friend TJ Cloutier the other day. He went all-in by mistake with A-6 offsuit and got lucky against A-K. It happens. You have to be careful playing online. That's why I preach so much about table etiquette, everyone makes mistakes from time to time."
After I get over the shock of hearing Tom swear (I think he actually said shoot), I watch in horror as the button goes all-in. Tom hesitates then tells me that because he messed up, he's committed to the hand. The only hand better pre-flop than his are A-A and K-K, neither of which he can put the button on because of his steal attempt. He tells me he probably has an ace and a face card and hopes it's an A-Q so his pair can dominate.
"Here we go; I'm calling this all-in."
"Nice Tom. Pockets Queens rock."
"Yeah, but their very vulnerable."
"Not to Tom McEvoy. You're a world champion.
"Please stop saying that."
Tom gets what he wants when the button shows A-T of diamonds. After we dodge a four flush flop and Tom finishes ranting about people overplaying their aces, the Queens hold up and Tom is the chip leader.
"We did it Tom!"
Lesson # 10 – Don't hit the wrong button unless you have pocket Queens and you know your opponent as A-T and he's going to miss the flop, turn, and river.
On the next hand I tell Tom he's on a rush when he catches A-J in the small blind. He grunts something about A-J being a terrible hand. There is one limper in the pot so Tom raises it up telling me this is probably a mistake, but he wants more information. The big blind goes all-in and the limper calls. Tom quickly mucks his hand saying A-J is a terrible hand to risk large amounts of money with.
Lesson # 10 – A-Q, A-J, K-Q, K-J are all like cheering for the Chicago Cubs. They look like they might be good and everyone's a fan, but they make you a loser in the long run and they won't win you the World Series.
Tom made his first blunder on hand 34. Looking at K-Q in middle position, Tom made a small raise and tried to see a flop. He had one late position caller. The flop came 2-5-7. Tom bet out, trying to continue his raise with a bet on the flop. He got the same caller. He told me he believed his opponent had an Ace with a low card, probably a seven considering the double call. The turn showed a J. Now representing the Jack, Tom bet out, three-quarters of the pot. Again the other guy made the call. The river was a Q. Bingo! Tom bets again and immediately gets called. Opps…his opponent showed two-pair and Tom said he messed up. "Couldn't really put him on two-pair there, but the call on the flop should have chased me. That guy wasn't going anywhere. The lesson here is to be aggressive, but to know your opponent. I don't mind making bets without a hand, but you need to know your opponent will fold."
Lesson #12 – Know your opponent.
In middle position, Tom gets 7-2 offsuit.
"Tom I think you should fold here. Yup, that guy raised, definitely fold."
"You're right Ryan, thanks."
As an average stack now, Tom is content to watch others play poorly. Facing raises with marginal hands, Tom folds and folds and folds, giving his reasons for staying out of the action. Most of the lessons are centered on the fact that his hands suck.
Finally he gets pocket Jacks in the small blind. We're playing five-handed now, just outside the money. Everyone folds to Tom and he puts a little under half his stack in the pot, easily scaring off the blinds. "Don't let your opponent draw out on you. Win the pot right there with your Jacks. If you get a call, you're still ok, but try and win it right there."
Lesson # 13 – Bet big when you think you have the best hand and don't feel like facing a suck-out.
Tom continued to fold marginal hands until only he and three other players remained. He told me although he'd prefer to be a big stack, as long as he cashes, he doesn't care how many chips he has. Using this philosophy has made him the short stack, but at least we're here. Tom said he rarely finishes worse than fourth place and I tell him the same is true for me. He calls me a liar and I sulk. He's so good, how can he always tell when I'm bluffing?
On hand 54 Tom gets dealt and A-3 diamonds in the small blind and raises the big blind. The big blind with the large stack calls and Tom gets a miracle flop, hitting his flush. He moves all-in and wins the pot.
The next hand presents Tom with A-J. Although he still hates this hand and is willing to rant about it, he's short stacked and forced to move all-in. He takes down the blinds. "You have one choice when you're short stacked," Tom said. "Move all-in, or else you're basically just giving away your chips."
Lesson # 14 – Don't get short stacked. If you do, you have one move. Grow a set and risk it all if you're dealt some paint.
Finally, our fun came to an end. Tom, who battled and maneuvered to stay afloat against the big stacks, looked down to find K-J and did the right thing, he moved all-in. One of the average stacks called him with K-9, which delighted the wily veteran. To his chagrin, a nine fell on the turn and ended our tournament, just out of the money. He put on a brave face, but let me tell you something Mr. K-9, old Tom was pretty pissed. He explained to me that poker is a game with a large element of luck. Part of the game involves losing even when you're supposed to win. But, even though he said all that, Tom wasn't fooling me. He thinks that Mr. K-9 was an idiot.
"You'd like to punch that guy wouldn't you Tom."
"No, I try to be an ambassador of the game. Losing is part of it. If you can't lose well, then you shouldn't be playing."
"Just one time Tom, wouldn't you like to go up to some fish and tell them exactly what you think about their K-9 call?"
"I'll take that as a yes."
Lesson # 15 – Win if you can, but when you lose (and you will inevitably), do it with some class.
Lesson # 16 – Tom doesn't punch people in the face.
All kidding aside, I'd like to thank Tom for the opportunity to watch one of the greatest to ever play and learn a little too. I may have exaggerated some of these situations (ok I definitely did) for humorous purposes, but readers should know Tom is as useful as he is engaging. It's worth the lesson just to hear his stories about poker and his help did improve my game, reminding me to be patient and teaching me a little about situational poker that I'd never thought of before in my online play.
If you're interested in serious poker and you've never received a lesson, I suggest you get one. It's worth the time, especially when your hard earned money is at stake. Tom conducts lessons from his Las Vegas home for $200 an hour. He can be reached through email at email@example.com. He responds promptly and gives you a phone number to call.
I suggest you don't call him early.
Ryan McLane tries his best to write in complete sentences. He is currently being paid by Casino City to report on the poker industry and he thinks that's pretty cool. Email your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org .