Poker Strategy By Pros; A Poker Life – Amir Lehavot; Poker and Politics 2013

work smarter

Poker Strategy With Bryan Devonshire

Work Smart, Not Hard

 by Bryan Devonshire     


Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, stated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to attain mastery. I’ve played poker with plenty of people who have played poker themselves for ten thousand hours and are still awful. Poker is an exceptional activity where participants will not improve unless they are actively trying to get better. A person can expect to improve simply through repetition and observation at most things in which one participates, but in poker, doing and observing does not yield improvement by themselves; improvement in poker requires active thought and pursuit of knowledge.

People get ideas about poker from many places, and most of them are wrong and laughable. A guy forfeited a heads-up match on the bubble in the third round by the third hand because the dealer was left handed. Many players believe in lucky seats. They’ll actively bounce around the table looking for their lucky seat. If a player is in a lucky seat and then moves, then they made a mistake. I once saw a fistfight erupt over one of these freshly vacated seats. Can’t win a pot? You should probably ask for a scramble first. If that doesn’t work, then ask for a setup. Scramble those cards too if things don’t change quickly, and if you haven’t won a pot halfway through the down, then it’s clearly the dealer’s fault. If you are sitting at a table with one of your unlucky dealers, then this is your cue to take a break until that dealer gets pushed.

People with decent poker minds say things that are just as foolish about poker all the time. At a bar the night before a final table, I’m approached by these two dudes, one of whom I recognize as one of six finalists and another I’ve seen around. They want my insight into a question they’re debating. Say tomorrow at the final table, before anybody busts, somebody raises, another person goes all-in, they cover you, and you have pocket aces. What do you do?

I blinked a couple of times, dusting off my sarcasm detector, trying to determine several whiskeys in whether or not these boys were toyin’ with me. They stared in giddy anticipation like the “Bobs” in Office Space waiting to hear what Michael Bolton’s favorite Michael Bolton record was. They were as serious as a four-hour erection. After I said something like I would high five the dealer and call as soon as possible, the antagonist then admonished me, using advanced terms like ICM (Independent Chip Model) and TV time and a claim that Daniel Negreanu himself said that he would fold aces in that spot.

Then there’s all the people that think that they can beat decent players better than they can beat the baddest. Too many see the flop, my hand never holds, and I can’t ever get them to fold! I know that guy is a winning player, but I prefer to play against him because he folds when I bet. Speaking of betting, why’d you bet so little on the flop? You let them call and get there. I don’t care if his call was bad, if he had folded then you would have won the pot. I don’t ever want them calling and sucking out on me!

Both schools are missing out on the whole goal of poker: Win the most chips. Win bigger pots, lose smaller pots. Figure out what your opponent has. Figure out if your opponent is thinking about you. If they are, then what are they thinking? Are they thinking about your hand, and if so, what do you think they think you have? Do they think you’re thinking about what they have? If you can fulfill these tasks, then you will win at poker.

For example, it folds to us and we have a hand that is better than the remaining unseen hands, so we raise. We usually have the best hand, so we want to put more money in the pot. We don’t want to let the big blind see a free flop nor do we want the small blind to get a discount, we’d rather win that blind money without a fight. Folding is obviously bad, and calling isn’t as good as raising. The big blind calls, and we flop top pair on a dry board. Check or bet, and if we bet, how much? It’s a mistake to make an opponent fold a hand that’s worse than ours, and it’s also a mistake to bet so small that our opponent has the correct odds to call. What do we do if we get raised? What about checking? It’s hard to get three streets of value in this hand without improving. We could get them to bluff at this pot twice with hands that they would have folded to our flop bet. We save money when we’re behind. We don’t make as much when we improve or when we could have gotten three streets of value though.

If you’re thinking about poker hands like this, then you’re doing it right. If you’re still making decisions like call preflop or bet the pot on this flop, then you’re doing it wrong, ignoring the fundamental goal to win the most chips. Anybody can go to the driving range, hit golf balls every week, and improve without trying. But the guy who talks golf with his buddies, gets somebody to look at his swing and critique it will improve the most at the range. In poker, this is the only guy who will improve. Do things smart. Talk to poker players who are smarter than you and listen to them. If something’s broken in your poker game, don’t blame it on outside factors, analyze the situation with other people. Maybe you chose correctly and actually were unlucky, but usually you made at least one mistake along the way.

Every single decision should be refined by this approach. Every single incident should be analyzed under the lens of optimal decision-making rather than results. Think deeply about every situation you are in, always remembering the goal to win the most chips. Plan ahead, and have answers to why you choose what you choose. Then analyze those answers, and if they still sound good to you objectively, then run with it unless you can think of something better. After doing this for 10,000 hours, then you will be a master of poker. ?

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.


amir lehavot

A Poker Life: Amir Lehavot

Lehavot Gives Up Lucrative Career And Finds Poker Success

by Julio Rodriguez     

At 38, Amir Lehavot was the oldest player seated at the 2013 World Series of Poker main event final table, but that doesn’t mean he was the most experienced. In fact, the Israel-born poker pro, who now lives in Weston, Florida, has only been playing poker for the past seven years.

So how does a relative newcomer to the game ascend to poker’s biggest stage? After a decade working in Silicon Valley as an electrical engineer, Lehavot made the switch to online poker and subsequently, live tournament poker. In his brief poker career, he has already earned more than $6 million in combined live and online winnings.

This is his story.

A Move To The States

Lehavot was the oldest of three children, growing up near Tel Aviv, Israel. His mother was a chemist and his father worked in the Israeli military. When his father turned 40, he had finished his assignment and was cleared to take an engineering job in the United States. Lehavot, a teenager at the time, was not very excited about the prospect of uprooting his life to Texas.

“I was very happy in Israel with a nice social circle,” he recalled. “I remember those times very fondly and I remember being very upset when we had to move. It was definitely tough on me, but I think if you remove most 16-year-olds from their current environment, they’ll be upset.”

In Israel, Lehavot started playing chess at just five years old and was even on the Israeli youth chess team, but due to the popularity of the game, he was never ranked above the top 50 or so players in his age group. After moving to Texas, however, he found himself excelling at the game.

“I’ve always enjoyed strategy games, so it was fun to compete. I played until I finished high school, but I realized that if I wanted to be serious about chess, I’d need to devote a lot more time to it. I decided I wasn’t interested in doing that, so I basically quit playing for the most part.”

With his chess days behind him, Lehavot moved forward to the University of Texas in Austin, studying electrical engineering. After graduating in 1996, he immediately found work in Silicon Valley.

“I was always very good with math and sciences, so it seemed like a pretty practical profession for finding a well-paying job,” he said. “I always enjoyed problem solving and it came naturally to me, so after graduation I jumped right in and moved to San Jose. My first job was with Hewlett Packard doing chipset design for high-end servers.”

Poker Comes Calling

Lehavot was barely aware that poker existed, but after ten years of working in the same field, he decided he needed a break. Unhappy with his job at the time, he took his savings and left the company, figuring he could find another job after a year off. It was during this time that he found the world of online poker.

“Someone pointed me in the direction of the online poker forum twoplustwo,” he said. “I started reading posts about poker hands and I realized that despite how many users the site had and how active they were, the format was very dated. People would post hands and get feedback, but I didn’t think they were doing it in the most optimal way. So as a side project during my time off, I decided to create something that incorporated hand discussion and social networking. The end result was, which kind of forces other users to play the hand with you, rather than be results oriented. It’s an interactive process that leads to more in-depth discussion.”

Of course, if Lehavot was going to design a poker strategy site, he’d need to know how to play. Without much experience at all, he made a deposit on PokerStars.

“When I first started, I was quite skeptical of online poker and really had no idea what I was doing,” he admitted. “My approach was to deposit $50 and see how it went. I didn’t know any poker players. I was playing only one table at a time, just because I didn’t know you were allowed to play more. It took me two months to figure that out.”

Luckily for Lehavot, he ran well at the beginning of his online poker career. Though he initially started playing for research purposes, he found himself turning a steady profit and never had to make another deposit again.

“In my first three months, I won $40,000. Then I broke even for the next six months or so, but in the last three months, I won another $60,000. This was mostly playing 180-man sit-n-gos, but as the year went on, I mixed in some multi-table tournaments. The $100,000 wasn’t as much as I had made in my previous job, but I did make some money and I did have fun doing it, so I figured, why not take another year off and see how it goes.”

Turning Pro

In March of 2009, Lehavot chopped the PokerStars Sunday Million for $144,000. It was exactly the confidence booster he needed to cement his decision to turn pro. He now knew that if he worked hard on his game, he could make a comparable income playing online poker that he did while working as an electrical engineer. Live poker, however, was a different story.

“I wasn’t playing very much live poker back then, just two $10,000 tournaments a year. I played the Bay 101 Shooting Star and the WSOP main event. My experience online showed me that there was so much variance in tournament poker and that the only way to overcome that was with volume. Since I couldn’t possibly put in the same volume live as I was doing online, I didn’t think anyone could count on winning consistently as a live player. At the time, I viewed live poker as a lottery. To some extent, I still view it that way. Obviously, I’ve been very fortunate in my live poker career and I discovered that there is a much bigger skill advantage in live poker than in online poker, but variance is still a big part of the game.”

Despite his reluctance to invest his bankroll in live poker tournaments, Black Friday kind of forced his hand.

“Right before Black Friday, an investor convinced me to go out and play in the WPT L.A. Poker Classic. I was able to sell some action and ended up finishing in fourth place for $420,000. Then Black Friday took away online poker, so I was forced to play more live poker. A few months later at the WSOP, I won the $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em Championship for another $573,000.

Lehavot had won his first bracelet, but he wasn’t about to let the accomplishment go to his head.

“For me, it’s all a numbers game,” he said. “The prestige of winning a bracelet isn’t that important for me. In my mind, when you win a tournament, it doesn’t really say a lot about what kind of player you are. I don’t think that any experienced players believe that just because you win a tournament, you are the best player in that tournament. Media attention is nice, but I’m focused on the prize money.”

WSOP Main Event Final Table

In 2013, Lehavot navigated his way through a field of 6,352 to make the WSOP main event final table, becoming an official member of the November Nine. Despite entering the final table in second place overall, Lehavot did not allow himself to start mentally spending the $8.35 million first-place prize.

“I felt that I was very fortunate to be in that situation, so I came in with no expectations on how I would finish,” he explained. “I think over the last few years that I’ve developed an emotional maturity that allows me to handle any sort of variance that comes with the game. It’s impossible to control the outcome of these things, so I’d rather be happy with any outcome and appreciate how much ‘luck’ I already had in getting that far. Things could have gone better for me, but they also could’ve gone much worse.”

Lehavot lost a big chunk of his stack early on at the final table, running trips into an opponent’s rivered full house, but he was able to fight on from the short stack, using patience and well-timed all-ins to keep himself off the rail. Though he was the shortest stack with six players remaining, he managed to survive all the way to third place, banking $3,727,023. It was nearly $2.1 million more than if he had busted in sixth.

“I’m very happy with third place. I think I played very well short stacked, but I also got very lucky. I shoved a bunch of times and no one ever really had a hand to call me with until the end. Then some other players went out for a variety of reasons, so I was able to move up and make some more money.”

Moving Forward

Lehavot earned life-changing money during his run in Las Vegas, but doesn’t have any plans to drastically alter his lifestyle. Lehavot plans on playing more poker, but is also excited about being able to spend more time with his 14-month-old son.

“The money significantly adds to my family’s financial security. We don’t have any huge plans to spend any of it, but we will manage it wisely. For the time being, I really like poker and will keep my eyes open for other opportunities.” ?


poker and politics

The Year in Review: 2013 Poker and Politics


By Earl Burton  


As we prepare to turn the calendar from 2013 to 2014, it’s time to look back at the past year. Poker and politics were a combination that made headlines throughout the entirety of the year, for both good and bad, as the United States – and individual state governments – struggled with the issue of poker overall and online poker specifically.

In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was faced with a decision. The New Jersey legislature had sent him a bill to regulate full online casino gaming prior to Christmas 2012 and Christie struggled with his decision. In late January, he voiced those concerns on his “Ask the Governor” radio program as the deadline for a decision approached. As Christie debated his choices, the state of Mississippi reintroduced online gaming legislation (it would fail to get out of committee in February) and the international online gaming scene underwent changes as Germany enacted online gaming legislation that only permitted sports betting while eliminating online casino games and poker.

At the start of February, Christie conditionally vetoed the online gaming bill that was sent to him, citing a few changes that he wanted to see before he would sign off on it. The New Jersey legislature quickly made those changes and, by the end of the month, Christie signed the online gaming bill, making New Jersey the third state (following Nevada and Delaware) to regulate the online gaming industry within its borders. Nevada would amend their laws during February to allow for interstate compacts to expand their player base, while legislators in California and Iowa debated bills to open up their states to online gaming.

Poker legislation was a part of many states’ agendas as winter turned to spring. Texas, Illinois and Washington all had online gaming legislation introduced in their respective state legislatures while Florida went the other direction. In passing a gaming bill, Florida prohibited “electronic” gaming in the state, which led to several subscription poker sites (such as pulling out of the Sunshine State. Meanwhile, 14 companies applied for licensing for full online gaming in Delaware and Nevada issued online poker licenses to several casino operators, but no sites were online at this point.

That all changed in April. At the end of the month, the Nevada online poker industry was born when Ultimate Poker came online. Ultimate Poker became the answer to poker trivia questions forever when they dealt their first hand on April 30 and, for the entire spring and much of the summer, they were the only game in town. As online poker fans rejoiced in Nevada, an online gaming bill was introduced in Pennsylvania while Oregon debated a bill to shut down live poker rooms and Michigan continued what became a yearlong crackdown on their charitable poker industry.

As May arrived and the World Series of Poker began, perhaps the greatest political challenge facing poker was born. Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson, penning an article at, announced his opposition to federal regulation of online gaming and poker. In that article, Adelson stated that online gaming was “a societal train wreck waiting to happen” and that it was a “plague” on society. Adelson would go on through the year to create (through the LVSC) an ant-online gaming lobbying group and said that he would spend “whatever it takes” to enact a ban on internet gaming in the United States.

Despite Adelson’s actions, Texas Representative Joe Barton reintroduced his bill for federal regulation of the online gaming industry in July. Entitled the “Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013” (HR 2666), the bill earned a hearing in a House subcommittee in December that was the first battleground between Adelson’s anti-gaming forces and pro-online gaming supporters. House members cited the “hypocritical” stance of the LVSC regarding online gaming, but weren’t overwhelmingly in favor of Barton’s legislation. As the year came to a close, the Barton bill was still sitting in committee.

The state of California attempted to push through online poker legislation in August. State Senator Lou Correa amended his legislation, Senate Bill 678, to an “urgent” status that forced the California General Assembly to examine the bill. As the month wore on, however, legislators in the Golden State decided to table any decision regarding online gaming until 2014 at the earliest. In September, made its debut in the Nevada online gaming industry, becoming only the second site to go live.

October saw Delaware become the second state to go live with full online casino gaming. The state, through three sites operated out of casinos located in the state, offered its citizens a full slate of online casino gaming rather than just poker. As the end of the year came, the results were impressive; $3.8 million was wagered on those three sites by approximately 2800 customers. New Jersey announced during that month that they would be moving forward with their full online casino gaming industry in November, which drew several major players into what became a burgeoning marketplace.

As the end of the year approaches and the New Year beckons, politics and poker will remain an exciting arena. The potential for federal legislation, the continued push by state legislatures to get in on the online gaming bonanza and the ever-evolving world of the international online gaming scene should be interesting to watch as 2014 kicks off.

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