The Poker Lab Rat

March 31, 2007

Poker Pro: How much luck? How much skill?

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Elle @ 4:08 am

UK based Ben Roberts is predominately a cash game player

“The fact is, these kinds of events should have less of an impact on your overall results the more you play.”

If you’ve ever sat at a poker table, you’ve invariably heard the questions asked in the title of this article. While all serious players believe poker is a game of skill, they don’t always agree on how skilful a game it really is. Some people believe the skill to luck ratio falls at somewhere around 70% – 30%, while others argue that the ratio is closer to 90% – 10%. If you ask me, however, I’ll tell you something you won’t hear from almost anybody else. Poker is 100% skilful.

Now, I know many of you are already skeptical about how I can make this kind of claim. What about bad beats? Or the times you’re out-drawn on the river? How can I not figure these kinds of situations into my thinking? The fact is, I already have. Variance is part of poker and it would be highly unusual if bad beats didn’t occasionally happen or if two-outers didn’t sometimes hit on the river, as this would defy the laws of probability. The fact is, these kinds of events should have less of an impact on your overall results the more you play.

If you only play a few hands or a few hours of poker at a time, luck will undoubtedly play a bigger factor in your results than if you play regularly. For example, let’s look at a player who puts in eight hours a day, five days a week, for 50 weeks per year, which is equivalent to 2,000 hours at the table. Assuming this is a solid, smart player who doesn’t vary his or her stakes throughout the course of the year, I believe their talent will outweigh the effect of luck to ensure that they produce positive results year after year. That’s not to say this player won’t run into the occasional rough patch or have losing sessions, but by sticking to their game plan, these occasional down-turns shouldn’t adversely affect their bottom line.

In effect, all players get paid for every good decision that they make and penalized for their bad ones. By continuously making high-quality decisions over the course of so many hours, skilful players should make more good decisions than bad, and see their bankrolls grow as a result. I have done this for more than 33 years, and know many other professional players who have produced similar results for many years. What this shows me is that, over the long haul, luck is not only insignificant when it comes to your results – it’s non-existent.

It takes a true professional to look at poker in this way, and I fully expect that many people will disagree with my conclusions. but I believe that, over the long term, luck has nothing to do with being a winning poker player.

Ben Roberts

a5_wNicknamed “Gentleman Ben”, Ben Roberts is the UK’s most successful cash game player. He was born in Persia, but moved to London when he was a teenager and around that time, he started playing poker…

2h_wHaving played at bet365 Poker for years we really enjoy and recommend them highly. bet365 is the lead member of the Playtech iPoker Network.

 

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March 30, 2007

Poker Pro: Texture Is not Just For Fabric

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Elle @ 6:24 am

Phil Gordon - top poker professional
“If my hand is unlikely to improve, I tend to bet more than 2/3 of the pot. I want to take this pot now.”

When I’m thinking about my actions after the flop or turn, I look to the “texture” of the board – i.e., what cards are in play, and how might they interact with my opponent’s likely starting hands – to help determine if and how much I will bet.

My normal post-flop betting range is one third of the pot to the full size of the pot. The texture of the board dictates where in that range I choose to bet, and I determine that based on the following four factors:

1. How strong is my hand with respect to all of the likely hands for my opponent?

If I have a very strong hand with respect to all of the likely starting hands for my opponent, I’ll usually go for the lower end of the spectrum, betting around 1/3 of the pot. I want my opponent to call.

If I have a moderate strength hand with respect to all of the likely starting hands for my opponent, I’ll likely bet 2/3 of the pot. I want my opponents to fold some hands that are better than my hand and call with some hands that are worse than my hand.

If I have a weak hand with respect to all of the likely starting hands for my opponent and I want to bet, I’ll bet the pot. I want my opponents to fold hands that are better than my hand.
2. How likely is my hand to improve?

If my hand is unlikely to improve, I tend to bet more than 2/3 of the pot. I want to take this pot now.

If my hand is somewhat likely to improve, say about 15% to 20% of the time, I am more apt to bet 2/3 of the pot.

If my hand is very likely to improve (about 34% of the time or more), I am more apt to bet 1/2 of the pot.

3. How likely is my opponent to have “hit the flop” and have a pair or better?

If my opponent is unlikely to have hit the flop and have top pair or better, I tend to bet 1/3 of the pot whether I think I have the best hand or not.

If my opponent is likely to have flopped exactly one pair, and I think I have the best hand, I tend to bet 2/3 of the pot.

If my opponent is likely to have flopped two pair or better and I think I have the best hand, I tend to bet the size of the pot. If I don’t think I have the best hand, I’ll almost never bet.

4. How likely is my opponent to have a primary draw? (That is, a draw to the best possible hand on the board, like a straight or a flush.)

If I think my opponent is likely to have a primary draw and I think I have the best hand, I’m likely to bet the size of the pot.

If I think my opponent has a primary draw and there is a good chance I don’t have the best hand, I’ll almost never bet.

When the four factors above lead to different conclusions about how much to bet, I average the recommendations and bet that amount. Over time, you’ll develop a more immediate sense of the “texture” of the board, and the amount to bet based on that will become almost automatic. Then, you can spend less time calculating your actions and more time observing your opponents.

Phil Gordon

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March 29, 2007

Poker Pro: Flopping a Monster

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Elle @ 6:10 am

“Big hands can mean big pots. But, with a big hand, it’s even more important to strategize and figure out how strong your opponent is.”

Richard Brodie - professional poker player

When I started playing poker, I would get so excited when I flopped a big hand that I forgot my main goal: Win as many chips as possible. When I had marginal hands, I would think hard about what my opponent had and whether I could beat it. But when I had a big hand, I just wanted to get all my chips in the middle.

Big mistake.

Big hands can mean big pots. But, with a big hand, it’s even more important to strategize and figure out how strong your opponent is. If you think he’s weak, you can slow play the hand, perhaps getting him to call a bet thinking you’re bluffing or, better yet, inducing him to bluff himself. If you think he’s strong, you can let him bet your hand for you, raising on the turn or river to extract maximum value.

In the 2003 Borgata Poker Open, I mixed it up with a small under-the-gun raise with Ten-Nine of Diamonds. I got two callers, including Bobby Thompson in the small blind. The flop came Eight-Seven-Six, giving me the nut straight. Bobby led out with a pot-sized bet and we both called. The turn was an Ace and he bet again. I still had the nuts and, with my inexperience, didn’t think enough about what my opponents could have. Instead, I got greedy and just called again, hoping to get a call from the third player.

If I had thought about it, I would have put Bobby on at least two pair and the third player on a straight draw with something like Jack-Ten. I should have moved in at that point, pricing out the straight draw and figuring Bobby would have to call. Instead, I just called and the third player folded. When a second Ace came on the river and Bobby pushed in, I had a very tough decision and ended up putting my chips in dead as he turned over pocket Sixes for the full house.
If I had put my money in on the turn, the results may have been different. By putting Bobby to the tough decision to call an all-in, I might have priced him out of the hand.

The next year in the same event, I had the very aggressive Jimmy-Jimmy Cha on my right. He made a late-position raise and I re-raised with pocket Tens. He called and we were heads-up. The flop came Ten high with two Spades, once again giving me the nuts. This time, though, I thought about what he might have. Nines, Jacks, and Queens were definite possibilities. If not, he could easily have over cards. Jimmy checked – not an unusual play given that I had taken the lead before the flop. I decided because he was so aggressive, I’d go ahead and bet the hand rather than slow play it. Sure enough, he check-raised me all in and I called. This time I went broke the right way, with all my chips in as a three-to-one favorite against his flush draw.

Then there’s always the chance you’re beat with an even bigger hand. In a televised tournament at the Plaza, I raised with pocket Tens and got called by the big blind. The flop came Queen-Queen-Ten, giving me a full house. But my opponent check-called my flop bet with such a Hollywood act that I put him on at least a Queen. A King came on the turn and he check-raised me. I could beat Ace-Queen or Queen-Jack but not King-Queen or Queen-Ten, so I slowed down and just called. When he made a small bet on the river I just called, suspecting I was beat and, sure enough, he turned over Queen-Ten for a bigger full house. I had flopped a monster and was drawing dead! By analyzing his play and getting a read, I saved valuable chips and went on to the final table.

So don’t let the excitement of flopping a monster make you forget about putting your opponent on a hand. A lot of chips move around during these hands and you want them moving into your stack.

Richard Brodie

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March 28, 2007

Try a Phil Gordon Style Chip Sandwich

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 2:57 am

Phil Gordon - professional poker player


“If my raise gets the initial raiser to fold, the meat of the chips will very often be coming my way.”

Let’s say an early position opponent – preferably a loose opponent – raises and gets called by one or more players. Now there’s a lot of money in the pot. More importantly, the players who simply called are unlikely to have a hand that would merit calling a big re-raise. If they had such a hand, they probably would have raised instead of flat calling in the first place. Now it gets to me.

I “sandwich” the callers with a big raise.

If my raise gets the initial raiser to fold, the meat of the chips will very often be coming my way.

I prefer to make this play from the blinds than from the button; if one of the blinds happens to wake up with a great hand, it really doesn’t matter what the initial raiser was betting with – my goose is cooked.

I get maximum value from the sandwich raise when I am down to about 15 big blinds. For instance: I’m in the small blind. A loose player brings it in from early position for three times the big blind. Two players call. There are now 10.5 blinds in the pot. I look down and find 8-7 suited.

I raise all-in.

The initial raiser now has to make the tough decision as to whether to call a significant raise. Even if my timing is off and he has a big hand – let’s say A-K – and decides to call the bet, I’m still in pretty good shape. My 8-7 suited will beat his A-K about 41% of the time. I’ve invested 15 big blinds and stand to win 37 big blinds. I’m getting exactly the right odds on my money here.

I won’t make this play with a hand that can easily be dominated, like a small ace or king. I don’t want to be 25% (or less) to win if I can help it.

And by making the play all-in, I completely negate my positional disadvantage, and make the most of my short stack. With all of my money in the pot, I can’t be outplayed after the flop.

If it’s chips you’re hungry for, try the sandwich. You might just find that it hits the spot.

Phil Gordon

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March 26, 2007

Know Your (Table) Limits

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 5:39 am

Paul Wolfe - a prolific online poker player

“As I play, I take note of the loose players and tight players, and then use that information to decide which seat will be most profitable.”

In the 36 months that I’ve been playing poker at Full Tilt Poker, the one question I am asked most often is a variation on the following:

“Hey Paul? What are you doing in this $10-$20 No-Limit game? Ivey, J-dags, and Matusow are at the $25-$50 No-Limit table, and E-dog is playing in the $50-$100 Limit game. Why don’t you join them?”

The first thing I do when I walk into a poker room is put my name on the lists of games I’m interested in; the next thing I do is have a good look at the particular games I’ve just signed up for. More often than not, I’ll sit at the first available table when my name is called, but I immediately take stock of the game and behave accordingly. Often times, everything is just fine, but sometimes I’ll ask to be added to the table change list. Other times, a seat change button is enough to make the game palatable. On rare occasions, I simply leave the table.

As I play, I take note of the loose players and tight players, and then use that information to decide which seat will be most profitable. Likewise, I keep a casual eye on the other games. If I get called for a table change, I make sure the new game is the more lucrative one; if it’s not, I’ll stay put and ask to be put at the bottom of the transfer list. And while I have seen unbeatable $3-$6 games and very soft $10-$20 games running side by side, it’s safe to assume that higher limits mean tougher games.

If you’re playing to learn, nothing will challenge your poker skills like being at a table with Howard Lederer and Phil Gordon. If you’re playing poker for entertainment and making money isn’t your goal, by all means choose your tables according to where you’ll have the most fun. But if your only goal is to make money, forget about everything except picking the weakest game at a limit you can afford, even if it’s the $1-$2 game when you’re itching to play $2-$4. In ring game poker, it is better to play smaller at the table you’re likely to beat than it is to play bigger at a tougher table. You also need to take your time about moving up a level. I have seen many $1-$2 players sustain steady win rates at those stakes for a month, then disappear for weeks after taking a shot at the $2-$4 game.

Knowing where to play is as important as knowing how to play. If you pay close attention to your game selection, you’ll grow the kind of bankroll that will allow you to have more games to choose from.

Paul Wolfe

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March 25, 2007

Playing a Big Draw in Limit Hold em

Filed under: Chris Ferguson,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Elle @ 5:42 am

5 WSOP Bracelets, 2 WSOP Rings, WSOP Main Event Champion 2000
“Playing big draws aggressively against multiple opponents can create very profitable situations. ”

In Limit Hold ’em, it is not uncommon to see pots that are contested by four, five, or even six players. This happens with some frequency at lower limits, especially when playing with those who haven’t learned the virtues of a tight-aggressive style of play.

In multi-way pots, draws become especially powerful, and playing big draws aggressively against multiple opponents can create very profitable situations. For example, say that you’re dealt As-8s on the button. Three players limp before the action gets to you, and you decide to limp as well. Both blinds call, so a total of six players see the flop of 4s-7s-Jc. You have no hand at the moment, but you do have the nut flush draw.

On the flop, the small blind bets and three players call. What’s your best action?

Clearly, folding would be wrong. With two cards to come and nine outs, you’ll make the nut flush roughly 35 percent of the time, making you only a 2:1 dog. With six small bets going in the pot pre-flop and four going in on the flop, you’re getting pot odds of 10:1.

You might be tempted to just call and see what the turn brings but, in fact, raising in this situation gives you better value. The pot is getting large and it’s likely that all your opponents are going to call. Even those who have nothing more than second pair or a gutshot straight draw may feel that their pot odds are favorable enough to justify calling the second bet. If your raise gets called by four people, you’ll be getting great value. You’d be getting 4:1 on your money when you’re only a 2:1 underdog – a clear win for you.

The raise might also work well for you on the turn and river. By acting after the flop, there’s a chance that the other players will check to you on the turn. This gives you the option of checking and taking a free card if you don’t make your flush.

The level of aggression that you show with a draw will largely depend on your position. To show how your play might change with position, imagine you’re in a hand with the same hole cards (As-8s), the same number of players (six), and the same flop (4s-7s-Jc). This time, however, you’re not on the button but are in the big blind instead when the small blind bets out. Here, you want to encourage the other players in the hand to put as much money in the pot as possible. If you raise, you’re probably going to force players with second pair or a gutshot to fold, so your best option is to call. Give your opponents every opportunity to throw money in the pot.

Finally, let’s look at how you might play the same cards when you’re the first to act. If you have a nut flush draw in the small blind and there are six players in the pot, go ahead and bet. It’s a favorable situation for you, so you want to make sure that some money goes in the pot. When out of position, I’ll usually follow-up my flop bet with another bet on the turn no matter what card hits. Then, if I miss again on the river, I can decide whether or not I want to bluff at the pot. If I’m against only one or two players on the river, I’ll usually bluff. If there are five players left in the hand, I won’t bother. It’s too likely that someone will call.

You can make a lot of money playing draws in low-limit Hold ’em. Just remember that you want as many people contributing to the pot as is possible, which means that in different positions, you’ll need to do different things to get the most out of your draws.

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson

a5_wSince he started playing in the World Series, Chris Ferguson has won more bracelets (5), made more final tables (25), and had more money finishes (42) than any other player. He has earned more than $4,000,000 playing poker in the WSOP and WSOP circuit alone.

2h_wIf you’re USA-based, like Chris, you can play some great online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

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March 24, 2007

Pro Poker Tip: The Weak Lead

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 12:39 am

Lee has won 1 WSOP bracelet and Card Magazines Player of the Year in 2004

“And if you check-call, the pro will probably check the turn and then fold to a bet on the river.”

Have you ever seen those nature shows where scientists drag a fake seal behind a boat so they can provoke sharks to attack? The form of the helpless seal is irresistible to sharks, and they attack nearly every time. In a way, some professional poker players are like those ravenous sharks: they’re looking for easy prey. They’re searching for signs of weakness that will allow them to pick up pots with little resistance.

These pros can make life very difficult for an amateur. But there are ways that an amateur can take advantage of a pro’s aggressive instincts. One useful play is called the weak lead.

Using a weak lead, a player bets out a relatively small percentage of the pot. For example, if there’s 800 in the pot, the amateur would put out a bet of less than half – say 300. Looking at this bet, an aggressive pro may assume that his opponent doesn’t have much of a hand. He may guess that the bet indicates some sort of modest connection with the flop or even a poor bluff. The pro may look at this bet and come over the top with very little, or maybe nothing at all. Knowing that a player is on the lookout for these sorts of signals means you can offer up a weak bet when your hand is actually very strong.

Say you’re in a tournament and you raise with pocket Jacks. The pro calls behind you. The flop then comes 2-6-J rainbow, giving you a very strong hand. This is a great time to put out a weak lead. A small bet may entice the pro to believe you have something like A-K and missed entirely. He may raise right there, at which point you can decide to either call or pop it again. Or he may call your initial bet with the hopes of taking you off the hand on the turn. You can then check to the pro on the turn, and be all but certain that he’s going to bet, at which point you can put in a raise.

Note that leading will often work out much better than check-calling or check-raising. A check-raise is going to scare off the pro; he may even lay down a pretty big hand when he sees that sort of indication of strength. And if you check-call, the pro will probably check the turn and then fold to a bet on the river.

The weak lead can convince a pro to put in a lot of chips on the flop. That may be the best way to extract the most chips from a tough opponent.

Lee Watkinson

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March 23, 2007

Pro Poker Play: In Defense of the Call

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 4:00 am

“A strategic call might keep me from going broke in a hand where I hold a good, but second-best hand.”

Gavin Smith professional poker player

Most poker literature warns of the dangers of becoming a calling station. Common wisdom has it that when you’re playing a hand, you should be betting, raising or folding. Calling is usually considered the worst thing you can do.

I disagree. When I play in No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments, I find a lot of situations where calling is the best available option. A strategic call might keep me from going broke in a hand where I hold a good, but second-best hand. Or, a well-timed call might allow me to pick up a pot with a hand that wouldn’t win at showdown. Take a look at the following examples. I think you’ll see that the call is a powerful and underutilized weapon.

Say you’re in the middle stages of a tournament and you have a stack that is slightly above average. A tight player opens in early position for a raise of three times the big blind. You look at your cards and see pocket Tens. You probably don’t want to fold Tens. It might be as good a hand as you’ve seen in a long while, and it may very well be the best hand at that moment. Many people would say that, in this situation, you should throw in a large re-raise.

But the re-raise can be dangerous. Depending on the size of your stack, you could end up committed to the pot and have no choice but to call if your opponent moves all-in. If that happens, you’re probably up against a higher pair or, at best, A-K. You never want to commit all your chips when you’re either a small favorite or a big underdog.

If, however, you just call the open-raise, you’ll have a far better opportunity to make a good decision after the flop. The flop might come A-Q-7, at which point, you can fold to any bet, knowing there’s essentially no chance your hand is best. Should you see a flop of 4-4-6 and your opponent bets, you can raise. Most opponents holding only A-K would fold at that point. If your opponent then moves all-in, you can be pretty sure that your Tens are no good. You can fold, having preserved a good portion of your stack.

However the hand plays out, you’re sure to have a lot more information to work with if you just call the pre-flop raise. You’ll get to see three of the five community cards before you commit the bulk of your stack. You’ll also force your opponent to react to the flop. His action – his bet or check – is sure to help you determine the strength of his hand.

Here’s another situation where calling pre-flop has great advantages. Say you’re in late position with pocket 7s and a player from middle position open-raises. For the sake of this example, assume that the opponent holds pocket Jacks. The flop comes A-K-4. It’s nearly impossible for the player with Jacks to continue with the hand. A good percentage of the time, this player will check. When that happens, you can bet representing the Ace, which will probably force a fold. You’ll have earned a pot by outplaying your opponent. There’s no better feeling in poker.

These are just a couple of simple examples, but I want to make the larger point. A lot of beginners seem eager to make all of their plays before the flop. On any decent hand, they’re raising and re-raising, doing their best to get all-in. I believe that playing after the flop opens up opportunities for tough lay downs and good bluffs that aren’t available pre-flop. Playing post-flop is actually a lot of fun. In your next tournament, try some calls in spots where you might have re-raised. I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

Gavin Smith

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March 22, 2007

Poker: Stepping Up, Stepping Down

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 6:39 am

“Early in my poker career I set a simple rule for myself: I would never move to a higher limit until I won three consecutive sessions. If I lost three consecutive sessions at a given limit, I would move down to a lower limit.”

Kristy Gazes - professional poker player

My first poker experiences were in the low-limit 7-Stud games at Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. From the start, poker was an important part of my income. It had to be. I couldn’t afford to go broke. I needed to avoid the fate that hit many of the good players around me. They experienced massive swings in fortune — one day they’re playing in the big games, the next they’re on the rail, trying to scrape together enough money for a buy-in.

Early in my poker career I set a simple rule for myself: I would never move to a higher limit until I won three consecutive sessions. If I lost three consecutive sessions at a given limit, I would move down to a lower limit.

It took discipline to stick to my rule. For a very long time – years, in fact – I never made it beyond the low-limit tables. I couldn’t put together three consecutive wins. It was frustrating, but it was a great learning experience. By the time I made it to higher limits, I was a seasoned, experienced player who could deal with the intense competition I encountered.

Another nice thing about using such a patient approach was that I always had comfortable padding in my bankroll. In those early years, I may have had a hard time winning three sessions in a row, but I was beating the games regularly. I could pay my rent and add to my bank. When I moved to higher limits, I had plenty of money to sustain myself through any bad runs. In any case, if a lousy run of cards lasted three sessions, I’d back down to a limit where I was risking less.

I know a lot of players who have a hard time using an approach like mine. Most can’t step back because they feel a lower-limit game is beneath them. Their egos tie up their heads and they try to prove themselves against better players. They end up playing higher than they can afford, in games that are tough to beat, and they wind up broke. As a professional, I don’t play for ego. I play for money. As Paul Wolfe recently pointed out, often a smaller game offers a better opportunity for profit.

Think about incorporating something like my three-win, three-loss rule in your own play. Stepping down a level when things go bad will not only preserve your bankroll, it will sharpen your skills and build your confidence. When you step up, you’ve got the momentum of a winning streak behind you. You’ll be playing your best – ready for higher stakes and sharper players.

Kristy Gazes

tickyThere’s lots of choice when it comes to poker networks including the iPoker Network, Microgaming Poker, Chico Poker and WPN Poker Networks. Check out the latest poker room reviews before you decide where to play your next hand of poker.

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March 21, 2007

Small-Pot Poker: unconventional, but with method in his madness

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 5:13 am

Gavin Smith professional poker player
“I’m looking to pick up a lot of small pots by applying a constant level of pressure to my opponents.”

When you see a broadcast that features my play, you may be left scratching your head, asking, “Why the heck is that guy playing those cards?”

There’s no question that I do play an unconventional game. But, there is a method to my madness.

I play a style that’s usually referred to as “small-pot poker.” Using this approach, I’m looking to pick up a lot of small pots by applying a constant level of pressure to my opponents. Pre-flop, I raise frequently, especially in position. My raises are small, usually around two-and-a-half times the big blind, as opposed to the customary three or four times the big blind. I’ll raise with a huge variety of hands – everything from big pocket pairs to “junk” hands, like 6d-4d, or 5c-8c.

Usually, I’ll miss the flop when I raise with junk. In fact, two-thirds of the time, I won’t make as much as a pair. But here’s the thing: If someone called my pre-flop raise, he’s also going to miss the flop most of the time. When we both miss, I have a distinct advantage. As the pre-flop aggressor, I have control of the hand. Most of the time (as much as 90 percent of the time), I’ll follow up my pre-flop aggression by betting roughly half to two-thirds of the pot on the flop. A good percentage of the time, this bet will be enough to take down the small pot.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that you’re playing in the big blind and you hold Ks-Qs. I raise in late position to two-and-a-half. K-Q suited is a pretty decent hand against someone like me, who has been raising constantly. Still, it’s not necessarily a hand you want to risk your whole tournament on. So you call.

When you opt to just call, I put you in a position where you really need to hit the flop. If the flop is all rags, you need to be worried that I made two-pair with 4-7. Or, if there’s an Ace on the flop, you need to be concerned, since I could be holding a real hand. Most of the time, you’ll end up surrendering the hand to my bet on the flop.

If you do hit a hand – say the flop comes K-Q-4 – that’s fine. With my playing style, I’m accustomed to getting check-raised a lot. But that’s okay, too. I didn’t risk a whole lot with my bets, so I can just surrender the hand and look for better spots down the line.

There are a couple of other advantages that come with playing this style. One is that no one ever puts me on a big hand pre-flop. So, when I do pick up pocket Aces or Kings, my hand is well disguised. My opponents are willing to call with marginal hands (like the aforementioned K-Q) and maybe get themselves in a lot of trouble. If someone does flop top pair when I hold an overpair, it’s likely I’m going to get a big portion of his stack.

The other great benefit comes when I hold junk and hit the flop hard. When I raise with 5-7 and flop a straight, an opponent holding pocket Jacks is going to be in a lot of trouble.

Some of the best tournament players around – Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen and Phil Hellmuth among them – employ some version of the small pot approach. Is it the right method for you? That’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself.

I do, however, caution beginners from trying this style as it requires a lot of difficult decisions (what do you do with top-pair bad-kicker on an 8-high flop, for example). These are answers that sometimes come easier to more experienced players who have developed a feel for the game.

Still, you can give small-pot poker a shot. Register for a low buy-in tournament online and mix up your game. If the tournament doesn’t go so well, you’ll only be out a small buy-in.

Gavin Smith

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