Poker Professional Andy Bloch Gets Specific

Andy Block - a member of team FullTilt

In my last poker tip, I talked about the necessity of loosening up your pre-flop game, especially in the late stages of a tournament. This week, I’m going to provide you with some more specific examples of the kinds of hands you may want to play when you’re under the gun or on the button, and the ways you may want to play them as you get closer to the money.

For each example, I want you to assume that antes have come into play, which makes stealing the blinds not only more profitable, but also more of a necessity if you want to maintain a playable stack. If you’re not willing to raise with anything but “premium” hands at this point in a tournament, you’ll find your stack becoming noticeably shorter with each hand and orbit of the table.

With that in mind, let’s say I’m under the gun; I’m going to be raising pre-flop with almost every pair, depending on how aggressive I think my opponents are. I’ll also play suited Aces all the way down to A-8 and unsuited Aces all the way down to A-10. I’m also likely to play any two suited cards that are 8-9 or better. As far as off-suit hands go, K-Q or K-J are probably the worst hands I’ll consider; I’ll play both of these hands from under the gun when there are antes, but I won’t play K-J from this position when there are no antes.

By the same token, I’ll play a lot looser when I’m on the button and it’s folded to me: any Ace, any King, any suited Queen, basically any two suited cards 4 or higher, and usually any two unsuited cards that are 8 or higher. This puts 59% of the hands into play, which are just about how many you should play in that spot.

Of course, you’ll need to adjust your starting hands based on the make-up of the table. If you’re seated with a loose-aggressive player, you’re going to play fewer hands because they’ll call or re-raise you a lot more often than more passive opponents. On the other hand, if the table’s playing tight, the player in the Big Blind is playing tight, or you’re on the bubble, it’s a great opportunity to open up your game and steal more often. This is especially true if you’ve got a huge stack and everyone else is just looking to survive.

Remember, this is a baseline strategy – deviate from it based on your opponents, the stage of the tournament, who is in each blind, and your position. What do you do when you’re facing a pre-flop raise? Think about how you would play in your opponent’s spot and that should give you an idea of what cards they might be holding. If you don’t know anything about your opponent, assume that he’s varying his strategy based on his position; playing tight under the gun and raising with less than 10 percent of his hands (tighter than I recommend) and looser on the button, raising with about half of his hands.

For example, say your opponent raises under the gun and you’re next to act, holding A-10o. You’ve got to respect the raise from under the gun because your opponent is probably only playing about a third of the hands he’d play from the button. Not only that, but the rest of the table is still left to act and any one of these players could easily have a big hand with which they’ll call or re-raise. Since you’re clearly out of position here, you need to lay your hand down and look for a better spot.

If you do call with A-10o in this situation and everyone else folds, you’re probably going to be a 45 percent underdog to any of the hands that your opponent should have been raising with from under the gun. Even in this “ideal” situation, you’re still risking chips when you don’t have to.

If you’re holding A-10o in the Big Blind when someone raises from under the gun, that’s a different story altogether. You’ve already got money in the pot and you’ve seen who’s still in the hand. Similarly, if your opponent raises on the button and you’re in one of the blinds with A-10o, your hand is actually the favorite because he’s likely raising with any Ace in that spot.

There are also some players who don’t take their position into account before they decide to play a hand – they just play with Aces through Jacks and AK no matter where they are at the table. You need to tighten up against these players as you know they’re only putting their chips in the pot with big hands.

All of this is just a framework for playing on the button and from under the gun. Use it to help figure out which hands you should play in these spots and which hands you should be playing when your opponents are in these spots.

Andy Bloch

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Poker Pro: Knowing what to do and when to do it

Andy Bloch plays online poker exclusively at

Knowing what to do and when to do it is what separates those who just play in tournaments from those who make final tables. This is especially true in No-Limit Hold ‘em, where the first decisions you’re faced with are what hands you should play and when you should play them. As the blinds get bigger and antes come in to play, these decisions become even more crucial. In these situations, one of the most critical errors that people make is not varying their pre-flop strategy enough.

While many pros advocate playing a tight, aggressive game and the importance of choosing “premium” starting hands, I find that there are many newer players who take this advice too far and simply don’t play enough hands. I recently talked with a newer pro who told me he was playing less than 10 percent of his hands pre-flop. This just isn’t enough – I don’t even play this tight under the gun. If you’re playing this tight, you’ve got to loosen up considerably, especially in late position and in the later stages of a tournament.

Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about. As a general strategy, I want to play about 40 percent to 45 percent of my hands from the button before antes come into play. Under the gun with eight players left to act behind me, I’ll play about 14% of my hands. This percentage goes up gradually as my position advances around the table until I’m playing about 31 percent of my hands from the cut-off.

When antes come into play, I’ll raise about 59% of the time I’m on the button. On the other hand, I’m only going to raise about 18% of the time when I’m under the gun. With or without antes, it’s important to note that I’m raising about three times as often from the button as I do from under the gun. That may seem like a lot, but that’s how much you need to vary your play before the flop.

To give a specific example, let’s say you’re at the 100/200 level, and you raise three big blinds from the button. You’re risking 600 to win 300, which isn’t ideal. But if you’re making the same raise when there’s a 25 ante per person, then the same pot’s up to 500, which means you stand to pickup another 200. Those extra chips make it worthwhile for you to loosen up and raise more often with a wider range of hands, especially when you’re in the cut-off or on the button. If you’re successful with this play even a little over half the time, you’ve got an edge raising with almost anything.

You may have noticed that I’m giving some very specific percentages in this article. These are based on thousands of hands that I’ve played and tracked over the years, and a ranking system that I’ve been able to create that helps me determine which hands I should play and raise from different positions. You can create a similar chart for yourself or find a copy of mine in the Full Tilt Poker Tournament Strategy Guide. Use this information to help fine-tune your pre-flop hand selection and see how loosening up your game can help you thrive in the later stages of a tournament.

Full Tilt Poker welcomes players from around the world included the USANicknamed “The Rock” Andy Bloch has been playing poker since 1992. He is a former member of the infamous MIT Blackjack team.

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Pro Poker Tips: Those Tricky Middle Pair Choices

Professional Poker tips and startegy

Recently a couple of better players (that I was filming a poker show with) made the mistake of playing a middle pair out of position, and I realized that if these skilled and successful players make these kinds of mistakes, then the situation warrants shedding some light on to plug what could be a hole in many players’ games.

So what’s the mistake?

In both cases the players held a middle pair; in the first it was 9-9 and the second, 10-10. In both cases the players were small blind. And in both cases they were against an early-position opener in a six-handed SNG. Facing an early-position raise, there are a few options. Certainly they don’t want to fold, so throw that one out. The other 3 choices are to flat call, raise small or raise big (meaning the pot). Both players chose to raise small – the worst choice of the 3.

Why is that the worst decision? Because of the positional disadvantage in the hand.

Here’s the problem: You’re out of position with a hand that will flop an overcard to your pair more than 50% of the time. By raising small, you are making 2 errors. The first is that the original opener is obligated to call because he is priced in. Remember that when you choose to put money in the pot, the money needs to serve a purpose. When you raise with your middle pair out of position, there must be a purpose for putting money in above and beyond a flat call. Raising minimum serves no purpose: you aren’t protecting your hand, because the other player has no fold. You aren’t getting any new information from the other player since any hand he initially raised with he will call with as well. So you have not narrowed his range with the raise. Basically, by raising the minimum, you’re accomplishing the same thing as if you’d called – except you are committing more money to a pot for which you have a big positional disadvantage. Whether you call or raise the minimum, you learn the same amount about the other player’s hand (nothing new), so why make that minimum raise? Just to play a bigger pot when your opponent has the advantage?

The second problem with the minimum raise is that you are opening the action back up to your opponent. If you’re going to open the action back up, then the extra money you put in the pot better damned well be accomplishing something – either giving you some strong folding equity so you can win the pot right there without seeing the flop, or at least telling you something new about your opponent’s hand when he does call. The minimum raise accomplishes neither of these 2 things. The ONLY thing the minimum raise does is open you up to a move in – possibly causing you to fold the best hand.

Obviously the better choices are either just to flat call and play the pot small, not giving anything away about your hand and keeping the pot small when you are at a disadvantage; or raising big to pick up the folding equity and learn a lot about your opponent’s hand when he does call. Raising big actually allows you to take a nice lead on the pot. Since there are valid arguments for both calling and raising big, I would never fault anyone for taking either of these 2 choices – both are fine.

So what happened to the players who raised the minimum with 9-9 and 10-10? Well, the 9-9 player got moved in on by A-J and folded, demonstrating quite nicely why opening the action up to your opponent might not be such a good thing. The 10-10 player was called pre-flop by A-6 and then got bluffed off his hand after the flop, demonstrating why juicing up the pot when you’re at a positional disadvantage might also not be a good thing.

So – when you’re out of position, you must make a clear choice: Choose to play a small pot when you are at a big disadvantage or play the hand strong enough to get your opponent to fold. Do not make the non-choice – the completely non-committal play of raising but not raising enough to accomplish anything except the possibility of you being bluffed.
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Mike Caro: When not to bet


Knowing for certain when not to bet can save you thousands of dollars! On the more esoteric side I teach:

You shouldn’t bet into frequent bluffers, because you’ll average more money by checking and calling.

You shouldn’t bet with small advantages if your image is dominating, because your opponents will respond more rationally and get maximum value from their hands when they have you beat.

Closely related, you shouldn’t value bet when you’re losing, because opponents are inspired by your suffering and play better, making otherwise-moneymaking bets unprofitable.

There are other more complex reasons not bet to, but here’s a simpler situation – pay attention…

You simply lose money when you bet poker hands that have average prospects of being best. Don’t do that!

Mike Caro (extract from ‘What Not to Bet in a Nuclear Winter’)

a5_wMike Caro “The Mad Genius of Poker” is a world-class professional poker player, renowned poker trainer and fanatic on poker strategy, the role of psychology in poker and statistical analysis of poker games.

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. (Sorry no US residents can be members).


Seven-Card Stud: Popular with the resurgence of HORSE and other mixed game poker

Keith Sexton - poker professional - photo courtesy of

While most players these days specialize in No-Limit Hold’em, I know there are many people out there who grew up learning Seven-Card Stud. With the resurgence of HORSE and other mixed games, now is a great time to branch out and revisit some of the basics to help make you a better all-around player.

For me, Fifth Street is the big decision point in this game because that’s when you have to put in your first big bet. And one of the toughest situations you can face on Fifth Street is what to do with small to medium pocket pairs. If your opponent is betting into you with one or two over-cards to your pair and representing an over-pair, when should you continue?

In the situation that you both catch average-looking boards, you need to know your opponent. Are you up against someone who’s aggressive enough to keep betting with just one pair? I know that an opponent like Phil Ivey has the heart to bet all the way to the river with a pair so I would be less likely to call him down with something small like a pair of fives. If I was up against a more timid opponent, however, I would call a bet on Fifth Street because I know if all he has is one pair and he fails to improve, he’ll slow down. I might have to call another bet on Sixth Street, but he won’t bet one pair on the river, and I can check behind him to save a bet.

Another good player once described this concept as the Ben Franklin principle. It goes hand in hand with the idea of pros increasing their equity by showing aggression in the appropriate spots. A bet saved is a bet earned and just like extra bets chopped out by shrewd and speedy play, they add up handsomely at the end of the year. In other words, you can enhance your bottom line in marginal situations by avoiding the Phil Iveys and chasing the timid guys.

Even more important than knowing your opponent, however, is knowing how “live” your cards may be as your hand plays out. I often think too many players give up on their hands prematurely when there’s sufficient money in the pot to continue on. For example, let’s say your opponent raises from middle position while showing a 10 as his up-card. You’re showing a 7 and you have a pair of 3s in the hole. There are no other 3s out, so you call and everyone else folds.

On Fourth Street, your opponent catches a non-suited 8 and you catch a Queen; you check and he bets out again, representing a pair of 10s. You call. On Fifth Street he catches a 5, so his board is fairly average – T-8-5 rainbow, and you catch an Ace giving you (3-3)-7-A-Q. You check again while showing the best hand and he bets out again. At this point, you have to put your opponent squarely on a pair of 10s since he isn’t likely to bluff into such a scary board.

Even though you think you’re behind at this point, I think it’s OK to call a big bet on Fifth Street so long as you believe your over-cards are still live. Even if your opponent pairs his 8s on Sixth Street, and you miss your Ace, Queen or 3, you can still justify staying in the hand if you catch another over-card like a King because of the equity in the pot.

While you can’t currently beat his possible two pair (8s and 10s), your three over-cards and pair in the hole give you a total of 11 possible outs (two 3s, three Queens, three Aces and three Kings), and the right odds to call one more bet. Players who would give up their hands at the sight of the open 8s are making a mistake.

Fifth Street decisions can be very tough, especially when you’re not sure of where you stand in the hand. By keeping a close eye on your opponents and on your outs, you’ll be able to calculate when you should make the big calls and when you should fold.


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Chris Ferguson now living ‘running bad’!

Chris Ferguson poker professional

In my last tip I wrote about running bad and the effect it can have on your mental state. Now I’m living it. If you’ve been following my $0 to $10K Challenge, you know it took me about nine months to turn $0 into $100 and another nine months to turn that $100 into $10,000. Even though I hit my goal, I decided to keep playing and rapidly built up to $28,000. Three months later I was down to $9K.

Obviously, I was on a very bad losing streak, but it wasn’t due to bad beats. I just kept getting my money in bad; every time I had Queens, my opponent would have Aces – every time I had AQ, they would have AK. That’s just how it goes sometimes, but getting your money in badly doesn’t always mean that you’ve done something wrong.

For example, if my opponent gets all his money in pre-flop when he’s got Kings and I’ve got Aces, does that mean he’s a bad player because he got his money in poorly? Or that I’m a great poker player because I got my money in well? Obviously the answer is no – if our roles were reversed I’d be the one going broke. We both played the hand correctly; the fact that he was behind doesn’t mean that he played it wrong. He was simply unlucky to get dealt Kings when I was dealt Aces.

Focusing too much on getting your money in good can actually be a part of playing badly overall. I hear a lot of people complain, “I always get my money in good, but I keep losing… I can’t believe it!” Most of these players just don’t remember the times they’ve gotten lucky with the worst hand. But some people actually do get their money in well a majority of the time. It may be hard to believe, but these people are experiencing the right percentage of hands they’re going to lose – it’s just that these losses result in the players getting knocked out of tournaments because they are playing too tight.

Suppose I’m playing heads up and I’m only going to go all-in with Aces, Kings or Queens. My opponent is pushing me around by raising every single hand and moving in on me with any two cards. Finally, I get a pair of Aces and he moves in again. Even if I win the hand, just think about all the chips he’s taken away from me while I was waiting for my high pocket pair.

If I’ve lost 1,000 chips to him before I put my last 1,000 in the pot – even though I have my money in good – I’m only going to win 1,000 chips back. So, I’m actually employing a poor strategy by waiting for hands that don’t come around often enough because even if I win this hand, I’m only going to break even – and there’s no guarantee that I’m going to win. Plus, the chips my opponent is putting into the pot have been accumulated from all the folding I’ve been doing, so he’s now freerolling even though he’s behind in the hand.

Great players are going to get their money in bad once in awhile, especially if they’re playing against someone who’s playing way too tight. However, they’re actually going to make money over the long run because of all the small pots they win when their opponents are unwilling to challenge their raises without a strong hand. What this means is that if you try too hard to get your money in good all of the time, you’re susceptible to being bluffed and are going to lose more often over a long period of time.

Losing stings, especially when it seems like you’re getting your chips in badly with every hand you play. Still, if you keep your calm and avoid going on tilt, it’s possible to weather a rough patch without making drastic changes to your game. Keep your focus on playing well. Even if you do find yourself “getting your money in bad” from time to time, you’ll end up a winner in the long run.
Chris Ferguson



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