WPT Boot Camp – Advanced Cash Game Clinic
Leonard Finkel takes notes from Nick Brancato on how to make the most from his poker hands.
I was so impressed with the WPT advanced tournament clinic, I jumped at the opportunity to attend their advanced cash version. The WPT staff believes the advanced 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 provide the information that most interests those students. According to lead instructor Nick Brancato "[It] 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.” 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 our poker mindset. One goal is to move us from thinking about absolute hand strength into how various card combinations play post flop and how to stack our opponents. A great example of absolute versus relative hand strength is a situation where you're against five opponents. We learned it's better to hold a hand like 5-6 suited as opposed to 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. On the other hand, with only 20 or 30 BB, it’s difficult to get away from top pair and you probably shouldn't because there are no tough decisions on the turn and river. However, it takes multiple aggressive actions like raises or bets across three streets to get 100 or more big blinds in. Those actions tend only to 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 top pair types of hands and losing some big pots. During a demo lab while discussing how K-10 suited plays in a multi-way pot with top pair; Brancato explained, “Aces will lose more often than not. What the (bleep) 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 (plus one and two gappers) in deep stack play. I learned that when an opponent makes a smallish bet into me when I was the pre-flop 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 multi-way pot on the button, I called. With a flop of J-10-6 with two of my suit, it was checked to me. I fired a pot sized bet and got one caller. The turn brought a second six. I fired again and was called. An off suit deuce hit the river and I fired a third barrel, taking down the pot. I felt a sense of exhilaration when I took down this pot.
Our instructors constantly emphasized aggression and my approach to the game shifted somewhat upon hearing details from a study by Cigital. While checking the integrity of the shuffle from 103 million no limit hold’em hands on PokerStars, it 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.
While many students want to jump into the advanced clinic, the preliminary cash camp is a prerequisite. Attendee Marco De La Cuesta sums up the curriculums stating, “I think the differences in the camps are in the nuances. The first two days you're learning what you should do. In the advanced camp, you start to understand why you do things in specific situations, 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 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.“
Brancato’s teaching background is what makes the WPT 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 a good curriculum and deliver it in a way that's easy to understand. A big part of getting better at poker or improving 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 instructor Todd Brunson believes, “Absolutely any poker player can benefit from attending a WPT boot 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 camp you'll learn what traps to stay out of and how to maximize y
Our 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.” Information for all upcoming WPT boot camps and clinics can be obtained by calling 866-978-2668 or on the web at wptbootcamp.com.