Play More Pots

Erick Lindgren a Full Tilt Poker pro

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. Lord knows, 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.

Erick Lindgren

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Getting Beyond Your Cards

Perry Friedman plays exclusively at Full Tilt Poker

I spend a lot of time playing in the low-limit Stud games on Full Tilt Poker. In those games, I’ve encountered a number of players who haven’t come to understand one of poker’s fundamental concepts. These beginners focus only on their own cards; they don’t stop to think about the cards their opponents might hold.

To take a typical example from Stud. I’ve seen players call with low and medium pairs after there has been a raise and a re-raise in front of them. These players are so fixated on their own cards that they don’t stop to ask what hands they’re likely up against. And in these spots, the betting tells a pretty disturbing tale. You can see how one player might raise with something like three high cards, so a pair of 5s or 7s could be best. But a re-raise? That’s an indication of serious strength. At that point, a player should look at his pair and figure that, in all likelihood, he’s up against a higher pair, making his smaller pair a big underdog. Folding is the only proper action.

A winning poker player won’t just evaluate a situation at the start of the hand. He will constantly reassess as more information becomes available. Another example from Stud shows what I mean. Say a player raises on Third Street with the 4d as his up-card and I call with split 9s and a Jack kicker. We play heads-up and Fourth Street gives me a blank, the 5c, while my opponent catches the 8d, giving him two suited cards. He bets and I call. Then on Fifth, he catches another suited card, the Qd, and I make two pair with Jh. He bets again, representing the flush. Could he have caught the flush? It’s possible. But in this case, when I try to determine what my opponent might have, I have to move beyond the cards that I’m currently seeing. I need to consider the actions throughout the hand.

I remember that on Third Street, the player raised with a 4 as his door card. Normally, players who are trying to draw to a flush will try to get in cheap on Third Street; they typically limp and then perhaps, call a raise. So while it’s possible that this player started with something like Ad-Kd-4d, it’s far more likely that he started with something like a middle or big pair in the hole. When I put all this information together, I see that despite the opponent’s scary board, two pair is probably ahead, and I can react accordingly by either calling bets or raising.

This sort of thinking applies to all poker games. Moving beyond your own cards is a key step in coming to think like a winning player. The most sophisticated players in the game think a level deeper still – they consider not only what their opponents hold, but what their opponents think they hold. But that’s the subject for another tip.

Perry Friedman

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Pro Poker: Long Range Benefits Of Being Gracious


Long Range Benefits Of Being Gracious

Don’t ridicule opponents mistakes. You’ll motivate them, and they’ll play better. Always make it as comfortable as possible for your opponents to lose. The only strategically acceptable exception is you’ve busted them permanently. Then if you ridicule them, it can’t cost you anything in the future. It’s just bad manners. A similar Mad Genius concept applies to real life: If you’re not going to kill ’em, let ’em save face.

When Not To Bet

You should be very reluctant to bet a marginally strong hand into a consistent bluffer. You’ll often make more money checking and calling. (Note, though, that if the bluffer will not bet most losing hands he would have called with, you should bet.)

A Good Time To Bluff

One of the best times to bluff is when an opponent is staring you down, reaching for his chips, or otherwise threatening to call. While opponents who are trying to discourage your bet by threatening to call, MIGHT actually call, they don’t have hands powerful enough to raise. So, what remains are usually hands that they will be reluctant to call with. They will either call — reluctantly — or fold. Usually, in limit poker games where the size of the pot dwarfs the size of the bet, an opponent acting in this matter will fold often enough to give your bluff attempt an expectation of profit.

Don’t Play To Impress Your Opponents

Sometimes you’re frustrated because there’s such a large luck factor in poker. Once we master enough poker skills, it’s only natural to want to let others know that we are accomplished players. But I’ve seen a whole truckload of money lost in a half-hour by players wanting to impress others in a short span of time.

You might be able to do that in basketball with a few blocked shots, some fancy dribbling, and a couple of dunks; but poker isn’t the type of game that makes impressing others easy. Ultimately, if you vary from your game plan to impress opponents, you’re risking losing a lot of money that should have stayed in your purse or wallet. Sitting and waiting for an hour won’t look very impressive to your opponents, and choosing the routine thing instead of a fancy play won’t, either. But this is the way of winning poker.

Only occasionally can you use your expertise profitably to show off. Most of the time, you can’t. But, as a consolation, all the money you accumulate by the end of the year will BE impressive in the long term — unless you throw it away by trying to LOOK impressive in the short-term.

Listen For Sighs

Poker players who sigh and subsequently bet usually hold big hands. They’re trying to appear sad in an attempt to fool you. Among more sophisticated opponents, the sigh won’t be obvious. You’ll have to listen closely, but it’s often there — and it’s usually an act, whether subtle or more obvious.

Although this powerful tell won’t help you much playing online poker in today’s environment, it is one you should use against opponents sitting at the same physical table in traditional poker games. Seldom call a sigh.

Rake vs. Rent

When the house rakes money directly from your pot, you need a bigger advantage to call and raise. If you’re renting your seat by the hour, you should play more liberally.

Doyle Brunson

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Playing Big Slick in Deep Stack Tournaments

Paul Wolfe another great poker professional in the Full Tilt Poker team

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 as Howard Lederer has pointed out, 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.

Paul Wolfe

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Inducing a Bluff

Layne Flack Poker Pro

Beginners come to poker thinking that the bluff has one simple purpose: To take pots when you don’t have a hand that can win at showdown. In No-Limit Hold ’em, however, the bluff can be used in many different ways. A good player can use the threat of a bluff to force an opponent into making a very bad call.

For this tip, I thought I’d show another way you can use the bluff to your advantage. Using this technique, you’ll neither be bluffing nor threatening to bluff, but rather, you’ll be convincing an opponent to bluff in a situation where you almost certainly have the best hand.

Say you’re playing a game of No-Limit Hold ’em and you raise in middle position with Kh-Qh. You’re called by two players – one behind you and one in the blind. You’re thrilled to see the flop: 2h-7h-Th. You flopped a flush. The big blind checks to you and you bet. (Note that I highly recommend betting in this sort of situation. Betting the made hand often does more to disguise the strength of your holding than slow playing does.)

Your bet is called by the late position player. What’s he calling with? Maybe he has a Ten or the Ah. The turn is a blank, the 3c. You bet again, and once again are called. Now the river is another blank, the 4d, making the board 2h-7h-Th-3c-4d. What’s your play?

On the river you should consider checking – but not because you’re worried that your opponent has a better hand. Rather, since your opponent called on the river, you have to consider what he may have. It’s hard to bluff on three consecutive streets, and most players won’t launch that third bullet. So, after calling you on the flop and turn, your opponent may look at something like top pair and give up, thinking that you must have him beat if you’re willing to fire at this pot three times. Or, if he only has the Ah, he’ll have no choice but to fold. Either way, there’ll be essentially no way for you to get any value out of the hand by betting.

If you check, however, you let your opponent stab at the pot. If he’s got just the Ah, he may be inclined to see your check as a sign of weakness. He’ll fire at the pot in desperation, hopeful that he can force a fold. Then you’ll call and take a nice pot.

Remember, your opponent’s broken draws offer great opportunities for you to induce bluffs. When you have a hand and you appear to be up against a draw that doesn’t get there by the river, you stand to make the most by checking to your opponent, who can then do his best to pick up the pot by betting. It’s a great technique, and yet another way you can use the bluff to your advantage.
Layne Flack

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Cash Equity at the Final Table

Poker Professional Rafe Furst

While playing the final table of the $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold ’em event, I found myself in a difficult spot when we were down to four-handed play. I was in the big blind and Rizen, a tough, respected online tournament pro, was in the small blind. It was folded to Rizen who announced that he would raise the pot. With blinds of 15K/30K, his raise made it 90K to me.

At the time, I had about 400K in chips; Rizen had 750k and the other two players had about 250K each.

I looked at my cards and found As-8s, a pretty solid holding in short-handed play. I decided to raise the size of the pot. My total bet was 180. Rizen immediately re-raised, forcing me all-in.

The pot contained 580,000 (400,000 from Rizen, 180,000 from me) and I had 220,000 remaining. I was getting nearly 3 to 1 on my money, so this looked like an automatic call. I needed to win the pot only about 27 percent of the time to justify a call.

Against a big pocket pair (other than aces), my A-8 suited would win about 32 percent of the time. Against a bigger ace (A-K, A-Q, etc), my A-8 suited would win about 30 percent of the time. There was also a non-zero (though small) chance I was up against a small pocket pair and would win about 50 percent of the time.

So this was almost a zero-equity chip decision. That is, folding and calling would have pretty much same result over the long term. To find the correct action, I had to look beyond pot odds and consider (a) how this hand would affect my cash equity for the tournament (i.e., which action would maximize my expected cash payout) and (b) how this hand would affect my chances of winning the tournament.

There were two factors I looked at when considering my cash equity:

1 – Each chip in a short stack is more valuable in terms of cash-equity than each chip in a large stack. By calling in this situation I would have been risking chips of great value to pick up chips of lesser value.

2 – Folding removes any chance of busting. By folding, I would give my opponents a chance to bust on subsequent hands, which would move me up to a bigger payday.

After looking at these factors, it seemed that folding was the clear choice. But still, I had to think about how folding would effect my ability to win the bracelet – which was my primary concern. Would I be putting myself out of the running by giving up on so many chips? Not really.

When there are more than two players remaining, each additional chip you accumulate has a lesser impact on your ability to win the tournament. So when the chip-equity decision is a wash, you are better off folding than you are trying to accumulate more chips.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you should also keep in mind that there’s a big difference between moving all-in and calling all-in. When you move in, you can win the pot by forcing a fold. When you call, this obviously isn’t possible.

I decided to fold and wait for a better spot, and I’m very glad that I did.

Rafe Furst


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Doyle Brunsen on Playing the Blind


“Don’t accept a gift in the big blind in hold ’em,” Kelly told me years ago. He was wrong.

In hold ’em there are no antes. Without antes or something to replace them, there’s nothing to fight over, and if you’re against wise opponents who are playing perfectly, you should sit hand after hand, badly bored and mumbling mantras about your cattle farm. Finally one hand you’ll find a pair of aces. Logically, only then can you play, because you can defend aces against other intelligent players with equally perfect patience. Against such players, you shouldn’t even start with the second-best hand – a pair of kings. The only time you’d get action would be against a pair of aces and you’d be a decided underdog. All other times, you’d win an empty pot and gain nothing.

That’s why the ante was invented: to give poker players a motive for war. Human nature being as it is, I believe that most players would find reasons to play inferior hands sometimes, even without incentive. They lack patience. But, poker would be a pretty pitiful game without something in the pot to fight over. Well, in hold ’em there isn’t an ante. So what motivates players to enter pots?


It’s the blind bets, .There are two of them in the seats to the dealer’s left, a small one and a big one, usually twice as large. You must make these bets before seeing any cards. They aren’t optional.

In most hands, there’s going to be a raise before the action gets back to the big blind player. Whether to call or not will be a matter of judgment. But there’s a time when players, like Kelly, often misjudge. And that’s on those occasions when there’s no raise at all. If  opponents just call the big blind, there’s a special rule in hold ’em that can get you in all manner of trouble. Normally in poker, if you’re just called, then the betting ends. You move along. But in hold ’em if the player in the big blind isn’t raised, there’s a peculiar option. That player – who’s been merely called – can continue the wagering by doing the raising himself. It’s called the “live blind” rule.


My lesson today is that you should usually treat this situation as a gift when you’re in the big blind. You’re about to see the flop that happens next for free. Yes, it’s sometimes tempting to raise your opponents right out of their chairs, and that sort of aggression is in my nature. But usually, I decline. I accept the gift and see what happens at no cost.

It’s often bad to try to bully the game when you’re in the big blind with the opportunity to see a free flop, because on all following betting rounds, you’re going to act first (unless it was the small blind who called you). That’s a big positional disadvantage, making it harder for you to take charge. Another caution is that players who just call are frequently laying traps. They’re hoping you’ll raise.

Put it all together and you’ll fare better ignoring Kelly’s advice and following mine. Unless you have a powerful hand in the big blind, whenever you’re merely called, think, “Thanks for the present, buddy,” unwrap the flop, and see how you like it.

Doyle Brunson

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Texas Holdem: Betting out of Position

Professional Poker tip

Every Hold ’em strategy guide talks about the importance of positional advantage. The standard thinking is that the player who acts last has more information than his opponents, so he’ll have a better sense of where he stands in a hand and can, therefore, make better decisions. There’s no doubt that this is true, but it’s important to understand that the power that comes with position is often granted to the late-position player by the early-position player.

To see what I mean, consider a pretty typical No-Limit hold ’em hand. Say that I’m in the big blind with 7s-8s – a nice, flop-worthy hand. The player on the button raises to three times the big blind and I decide to call. Many players would check the flop under almost any circumstances. But, by checking, you give control to the late-position player. He can bet whether or not he has a hand, putting you in a tough spot if you don’t get a piece of the flop.

In a hand like this, I believe it’s best to look at the flop and ask, “Is it likely that these cards helped my opponent?” Once I have an answer to that question, I can decide how to proceed.

If the flop is Ah-Kd-9c, I’d probably just check and fold to a bet, as my opponent was likely raising with big cards and caught a piece of the flop. However, if the flop is 9c-5h-2d, I’d probably be more skeptical. I know that in Hold ’em, two unpaired hole cards will fail to make a pair on the flop about 66 percent of the time, and this seems to be a flop that the pre-flop raiser might have missed.

If I suspect my opponent didn’t connect, I’m going to take the initiative and bet out about half the size of the pot. Betting here with my gutshot draw offers several advantages. First, I might take the pot down right here, and I’m always happy when a semi-bluff forces a fold. But even if I get a call from my opponent, I’ve forced him to react. That gives me a chance to pick up a read. If my opponent seems uneasy, I might continue with my semi-bluff on the turn and try again to pick up the pot. Or, if I feel my opponent is strong, I can check and fold to any bet on the turn if I fail to make my hand.

Stabbing at pots when out of position can be very lucrative. In tournaments, I’ll open-raise out of position fairly frequently because I think there’s a lot of power in being the first one to fire at the pot on the flop. I pick up a lot of small pots that way.

As you work on your Hold ’em game, remember that you don’t have to give the advantage in the hand to the player in late position. Look for opportunities to bet out and seize the initiative.

Gus Hansen

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Pot-Size Manipulation

Another great tip from a poker pro at Full Tilt Poker

One of the key skills that winning big-bet players bring to the table is the ability to manipulate the size of the pot. They manage to play big pots when they have big hands, and keep the pot smaller when their holdings are more modest. If you think carefully about your betting throughout a hand, you can set yourself up to play a pot that’s appropriate for the strength of your hand.

For starters, let’s look at a hand that gets a lot of players in trouble – a big pocket pair. Generally, with any one pair, you should be looking to play a medium-sized pot. Of course, you’re happy enough to get all of your money in pre-flop with Aces, but beyond that, you should try to avoid playing huge pots with any one pair. Here’s an example of how you might manage the size of the pot while holding Aces.

Say that you raise pre-flop with pocket Aces and you’re called by the big blind. The flop comes down J-6-3 rainbow, and the blind checks to you. You bet three-quarters of the pot and the big blind calls.

At this point, you can assume your opponent has some kind of hand. Maybe he has a pocket pair or he hit top pair on the flop. The other possibility is that he hit a set on the flop and you’re in very bad shape. Given these likely hands, I think that checking behind your opponent if he checks to you on the turn is the best play. You avoid the possibility of losing a monster if you’re check-raised by a set. And if he does have a pair, you’re not giving away a whole lot of value by giving the free card. He may have two or five outs, which makes him a pretty big dog.

When you check the turn, you do so with the plan of calling a reasonable bet on the river. And if he checks to you on the river, you can put in a small value bet. At that point, your hand would be pretty well disguised, so he is likely to pay you off if he has anything at all.

So in this case, keeping the pot small will get you pretty good value when you’re ahead and help you avoid disaster when you’re behind.

Now let’s look at another type of hand that players commonly misplay – a flopped monster. Say you’re in the small blind in a No-Limit cash game. There are four limpers, including the small blind, and you check your option with A-T. The flop is huge for you – A-A-T. You have what is almost certain to be the best hand at showdown. Many players choose to check in this spot, fearing that a bet a will kill their action. And it very well might – it’s possible that everyone will just fold. But this is a situation where you want to give yourself the chance to win a big pot. You want someone to put in a lot of money on the turn and river while drawing dead, and that will only be possible if you start building a pot on the flop. In this situation, you’ve just got to hope that someone is holding the case Ace or decides to draw to a gutshot. So bet two-thirds of the pot on the flop and hope for the best.

Slow-playing might get you a few chips when you catch someone stabbing. But that would win you a tiny pot, and with this hand, you’re hoping to get a good portion of someone’s stack. You can only do that by betting and building a pot.

In the course of a hand think about what you can do to keep the pot appropriate to the strength of your hand. A timely check or a thoughtful bet can aid you in getting the most out of your hands.
Gavin Smith

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Wise Poker Speak

A couple of wise sayings from the card room:

Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
(Why was it you entered that $200+$20 re-buy tournament again, and again, and one more time as you “felt lucky?”…? )

It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.
(Having a baaad day bubble boy? A PokerLabRat team member has just missed the payout in 13 consecutive tournaments)

Experience is the sinking feeling you have made this mistake before.
(ah, yep – What the hell are you s’posed to do with K2 unsuited anyways?)

Never miss a good chance to shut up.
(…and that applies to online poker chat)


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