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Fred Faour: 5 ways that watching the World Series of Poker can help your game

Each of the nine remaining players will make at least $1 million. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The World Series of Poker's main event is down to nine players, and will be played out over the next three days. The final nine includes a past champion in Joe Cada, as well as a player from Houston in Michael Dyer. If you have not been watching the lead up, you have missed out on some opportunities to learn. The quality of play has been excellent, and there are very few players left who would be a surprise. If you have not been keeping up, it's worth going back and seeing how some of these players got here. If you were just waiting for the final table, you can still pick up a few tips to help your game at any of the local poker room tournaments. 

Watching on TV can be a great learning experience. Sometimes you learn what not to do. But even if you pick up a couple small things, you are getting free lessons from some players who are at the top of their games.

Let's take a look at the field: 

The chip stacks

1) Nicolas Manion (Muskegon, Mich.) - 112.775 million

2) Michael Dyer (Houston) - 109.175 million

3) Tony Miles (Jacksonville, Fla.) - 42.75 million

4) John Cynn (Indianapolis) - 37.075 million

5) Alex Lynskey (Melbourne, Australia) - 25.925 million

6) Joe Cada (Shelby Township, Mich.) - 23.675 million

7) Aram Zobian (Cranston, R.I.) - 18.875 million

8) Artem Metalidi (Kiev, Ukraine) - 15.475 million

9) Antoine Labat (Vincenna, France) - 8.05 million

How they got there

Manion won a sick hand with pocket aces against two pairs of kings to get the table down to nine and earn the chip lead. Dyer reached the final 10 with a big chip lead, and put on a clinic on how to work a big stack against a conservative group trying to make it to the final nine. Cada pulled off a sick bluff the day before but otherwise masterfully protected his chips. The play should be interesting from here, because a big swing can ruin your chances or get you right back in the mix. 

Here are five things to keep an eye on that can help your game:

1) Watch how the players manage their stacks

The two big stacks will likely try to avoid each other and pick off as many chips as possible from the short stacks. Manion played very conservatively until he got in with aces, so it will be interesting to see if he gets more aggressive. The middle range players will likely look for big hands to get all in with, while the shorter stacks will be in shove mode. They should provide a good lesson on how to use your chips depending on your stack. 

2) Pay attention to adjustments

There will be big swings, and how players react to that will determine the outcome. When the field gets from nine players to five or six, the range of hands played will likely go up. If you watched the last two nights, you saw some of that. When it was two tables with five or six players, the range of hands was much bigger than when it went down to one table of 10. 

3) Don't be fooled by the hero bluff or call

There will be at least one of these at the final table, and it makes for great TV. But keep in mind many of these players have been together for several days, and a play like that does not happen in the moment. They build up to it from going back and watching how all the hands have played out. Cada's bluff succeeded because he had been playing incredibly tight, smart poker. The bluff in that situation was believable. Players might set up a play like that over dozens of hands. In the end, most 0f the big swings will come when both players have big hands. Winning coin flips or getting in with the best is the most likely path to victory as opposed to the sexy bluffs. 

4) Position and patience

You can learn a lot from hands where there is very little action. Players in position pre-flop will often take down the blinds quietly with well-timed raises. While this may not make for great TV, it gives you a good sense of how to keep collecting chips while waiting for a hand to risk it all with. Players will be patient until they don't have enough chips to wait any more. To win, you have to get all the chips, so there will be gambling at some point. But the players will try to wait for the best possible moment. Big mistakes can be killers. Sometimes what looks like a small mistake or a bad fold can actually be the right play. This is a good lesson for any tournament player.

5) Listen to the voices

The commentators have been terrific throughout. Lon McEachern and Norman Chad have long been entertaining and informative. Antonio Esfandiari has been a terrific addition in recent years, but this year he made a deep run and poker pro Maria Ho has been a key contributor in his place. She has offered terrific insight. Many pros in that role will simply talk about how they would play a hand. But Ho offers several opinions on what a player could do in a given situation. There is not always one answer on how to play a hand; pay attention to the discussion because there are some really good nuggets of information there.

It should be a fun final table. Dyer's run is no surprise; Houston has a ton of good poker players. While he and Manion certainly have the advantage, Cynn might be an interesting sleeper if he can get his chip stack up. 

If you don't really watch poker on TV but like to play, I would encourage you to check out the final table. You can learn a lot of tricks to employ in your own game, and free lessons are never a bad thing no matter what your skill level.

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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