By Jonathan Little
The World Series of Poker is just around the corner. That is exciting! The Colossus event, the smallest WSOP buy-in at $565, brings together more poker players than any other tournament, so you are bound to see some interesting plays. I am going to outline three leaks that I witnessed throughout my play of the event in previous years that I think most of the players could easily fix, giving them a much better shot of making a deep run.
Overplaying decent, but non-premium, hands
It was quite common to see a few limpers then someone raise to around seven big blinds with 50-big-blind effective stacks with A-J, only to have the limpers call. The flop would come A-7-4. The player with A-J would bet the flop and either get called or raised. If someone called, the A-J would almost always go all-in on the turn. If the A-J got raised on the flop, he would go all-in. This is not a good situation to happily put your stack in when multiple players see the flop. You will find that your opponent almost always has two pair or a set. I watched numerous stacks be punted away in this manner.
Instead, consider not raising before the flop or if you do, bet fairly small on the flop, around 25 percent of the size of the pot. This will make it much more difficult for you to go broke on any individual hand. Most professional tournament players succeed because they avoid “coolers” where other players unnecessarily go broke. While you are certainly going to lose some chips when your decent top pair is not the best hand, you do not have to automatically lose your entire stack every time.
Limping with junk
I have never seen so many players limp with junk in my entire life! Multiple times per orbit, four or five players would limp only to fold to a huge preflop raise or, if they get to see a cheap flop, play passively and straightforwardly when they failed to flop well. Either way, they are giving away a huge amount of equity. While it is nice to be able to see lots of flops, if you aren’t fighting for pots that no one wants to claim, you will either break even or lose with this passive, straightforward limping strategy.
While I am more prone than most professionals to limp behind with speculative hands, mostly because I do not want to play huge pots without strong holdings or a great read that my opponents are weak, you should get a bit more out of line than normal in order to attack habitual weak limpers. If your goal is to make them fold, feel free to raise quite large, perhaps to around 1.5 times the size of the pot. Your opponents will eventually adjust, either by limping with premium hands or tightening up, but by then, you will have likely stolen lots of chips.
Raising and betting large amounts
When most of my opponents had a premium hand, they would bet a large amount, likely because they really did not want to get outdrawn. What they are actually doing is opening themselves up to going broke or losing a huge amount of chips every time they played a significant pot. There is nothing wrong with checking or betting around 33% of the size of the pot with decently strong hands. You have to realize that unless you make a huge bet, anyone with a good draw is going to call. The problem with betting huge with decent hands like K-J on Ks-Qs-7c is that if you get much action, K-J is usually beat by a better made hand, meaning you are drawing nearly dead. You will find that betting small conserves chips when you are beat while keeping worse hands in that you crush, like K-9 and A-Q. The last thing you want to do with your decent value hands is play them in a manner such that you only get action when you are crushed by better made hands or against a premium draw.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out my 475-page complete guide to beating small stakes no-limit Hold’em, Mastering Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em. If you understand everything in that book, you will be well on your way to crushing the small (and medium) stakes games.
Good luck and if you see me at the WSOP, be sure to say hi!
Jonathan Little is a two-time World Poker Tour champion with over $7,000,000 in tournament cashes. He is a prolific author, coach, and owner of PokerCoaching.com. You can occasionally find him playing and commentating at Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights. This article and more can be found at www.jonathanlittlepoker.com/blog/.