Playing more hands to increase your stack

Erick Lindgren kindly shares some pearls of poker wisdom…

In tournaments, I play lots of hands. I’ll put my money in with all kinds of connected cards, especially when in position. I might limp, I might min-raise or raise a little more than the minimum, depending on the circumstances. I’m looking to keep my table off balance so they don’t know where I’m coming from.

My overall goal is to pick up a lot of small pots without a lot of resistance. I might raise in position and hope for a call from one of the blinds. If I raise pre-flop with something like 6-7, I might miss the flop entirely, but the raise puts me in control of the hand. On the flop, I’ll likely bet if checked to, even if I miss. That small bet on the flop will usually win me a small, but helpful pot.

Of course, sometimes it won’t work out. I’ll bet and get check-raised on occasions. But that’s okay, because I actually don’t lose much in the hands that I have to surrender. Overall, I get to gradually add to my chip stack by chopping at small pot after small pot.

The other major advantage to my style is that, occasionally, I will hit a flop hard. If I do happen to flop a straight, it’s difficult for other players to put me on something like 5-7 or 6-8. If one of my opponents also gets a piece of the flop, I’ll get paid off in a big way.

By adding to my stack early, I have a real advantage over players who play a cautious, tight game. The extra chips that I accumulate allow me to survive some tough spots. So, if I happen to get involved in a race with A-K or a pair of Tens, I can withstand a loss. An opponent who’s playing tight will likely be on the rail after losing a single race.

New players often ask me how they can learn to play more pots. I always suggest that they drop down significantly in stakes and practice. If you’re playing $2-$4 no-limit, drop down to $.50-$1 – a level where some losses won’t hurt you.

Once you’re at that table, try to play eight hands out of 10. Play everything but 2-8 or 3-9 – hands that are entirely unconnected. When you get yourself involved with this kind of frequency, you’ll have to concentrate more on your opponents than on your own cards. You’ll have to be on the lookout for opportunities to take down pots with well-timed stabs. You’ll also learn how to proceed in situations where you flop a good, but dangerous hand.

By dropping down and playing a lot of hands, you’re going to learn a lot about poker. You’re also going to have a lot of fun. In my opinion, playing 50% of the hands is a whole lot more entertaining than sitting around waiting for Aces.

If you look at the success that Gavin Smith, Daniel Negreanu and myself have had over the last couple of years, you’ll see that being active can be an excellent way to score big in tournaments. It takes practice to play this style, but it can lead to great results and be a lot of fun.



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Playing “Big Slick” in deep stack tournaments

Poker musings by Paul Wolfe, Professional Poker Player. 

During this year’s World Series of Poker, I talked with a number of pros about the problems that so many online qualifiers had playing Big Slick during the early blind levels. It seemed to us that a huge percentage of the field – we estimated as much as 70 percent – was more than willing to go broke with this hand if they hit a pair on the flop.

But many pros, myself included, feel that Ace-King is a very difficult hand to play in the early levels of big buy-in tournaments, when the stacks are deep compared to the blinds. The fact of the matter is, top-pair/top-kicker is probably no good if another player is willing to risk all of his chips. This isn’t always the case – you may find an extremely weak player willing to go broke on K-Q, but that’s the rare exception.

The real problem with A-K early on is that it’s very difficult to get an idea of where you’re at in a hand. Even on an innocuous looking flop of something like K-9-2, you may think your hand is good. But you can’t be sure.

Say that you raise pre-flop with A-K and a late-position player calls. The two of you see a K-9-2 flop. You bet strong on the flop and then again on the turn. He calls on both streets. What now? Do you bet the river and pray that you’re not raised? Or do you check and hope that your opponent does the same? It’s a difficult spot and there are no great options.

Playing the same hand in position is a little easier, but it’s still tough.

While the blinds are low in a big buy-in tournament, I’m actually looking to see flops against the players who overplay top-pair/top-kicker. When I’m in position, I’m happy to call a raise with something like a small pocket pair, 5-6 suited, or even 8-T suited. I’m looking to flop a big hand or a big draw.

If I flop a set, I have a good chance of wiping out the guy with top pair. If I flop a draw, I have a chance to see if my opponent will give me a good price to hit my hand. The beauty of a suited hand like 5-6 or 8-T is that there’s no way I’m going to get in serious trouble playing them. If I flop anything less than two-pair or a quality draw, I’ll fold, having lost very little.

I think there are two major reasons many players over value Ace-King.

First is that in online tournaments, where the stacks start relatively low, Ace-King is usually worth playing aggressively. Players who win online satellites do so by playing Ace-King fast, so they come to big tournaments feeling good about this starting hand.

The second reason is that many people have seen TV commentators crow about Big Slick, calling it a “huge hand.” At a six-handed final table, Ace-King is a very big hand, but you need to realize that short-handed final-table strategy differs greatly from early tournament play.

When you’re playing in deep-stack games, learn to play A-K cautiously. The pros don’t like to go broke with this hand and you’d do well to follow their example.



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