Monday, September 24, 2018

How to Play and Underpair

One of my students recently told me about a hand from a $5/$10 no-limit hold’em cash game that demonstrates exactly how you should play a marginal under pair. Although he ended up losing the pot, he played it great.
A somewhat loose, splashy player raised to $30 out of his $1,000 effective stack from first position at a seven-handed table and our Hero with 10d-10c elected to 3-bet from second position to $90.
While calling would normally be my default play because I do not want to get 4-bet off my hand and there are lots of players yet to act, when facing a raise from a loose, splashy player, 3-betting a strong linear range for value makes a lot of sense because you can expect him to call with numerous inferior hands, such as 8-8 and Ah-9h.
Only the initial raiser called. The flop came Ks-4c-2h, giving Hero a marginal under pair. The opponent checked. The pot is $195.
This is an excellent spot to either check or bet small. If Hero checks behind, he can easily call a turn bet and can often call a river bet (assuming he thinks his opponent will somewhat frequently bet the turn and river as a bluff). Hero can also bet small in order to extract value from numerous worse marginal hade hands, like 8-8 and Ah-4h, and also to protect against various over cards, like A-J and Q-J. The main mistake many players make in this situation is to bet large, perhaps $110 or more, because then, they will usually only get called when they are beat.
Hero bet $40 and his opponent called.
While the $40 bet may seem exorbitantly small, it is perfectly fine. Do not feel as if you must make a bet that is at least as large as the bet on the previous betting round. The game is called “no-limit” for a reason. You can bet any amount, even a small one.
The turn was the (Ks-4c-2h)-3s. The opponent checked. The pot is $275.
I am again fine with either checking or betting small, perhaps $100. I typically check in this spot, looking to call most river bets. Checking behind will ensure you do not get check-raised and also allows you to easily see the showdown.
Hero checked behind. The river was the (Ks-4c-2h-3s)-10s, giving Hero a set. The opponent bet $130.
At this point, Hero has the effective nuts and should raise. While it is true that he may only get called by better hands if his opponent is weak and passive, given the opponent’s loose, splashy tendencies, it is safe to assume he will call a modestly sized raise with perhaps top pair and better made hands.
Hero raised to $330 and the opponent quickly called with 9s-8s, a flush.
Although Hero lost this hand, I think he played it well. Notice that he wins this pot every time his opponent does not backdoor a premium hand. When the opponent doesn’t (about 90% of the time), Hero will either win a small pot when his opponent gives up or a medium pot when his opponent decides to bluff. This will result in Hero printing equity in the long run.
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Friday, August 24, 2018

Baha Mar

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In November, PartyPoker is having a major tournament series featuring two (yes, 2!) $10,000,000 guaranteed events called the Caribbean Poker Party at Baha Mar, a new luxury resort in the Bahamas and asked if I would go there to make a video blog showing off the resort. Seeing how Amie and I have not had a non-poker vacation away together in two years, we were celebrating our three-year anniversary, and are expecting our second son in December, how could I say no?

This video features lots of time at the beach, amazing dinners, and maybe even a little blackjack action.

Baha Mar is amazing. Every detail is accounted for. The beach is pristine, the rooms and the venue are immaculate, and the food is amazing. If you are looking for a tournament to play in the near future, you will not want to miss PartyPokerLive’s Caribbean Poker Party. Click here for details on the series. I will see you there!


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Influential Players

In this blog post, I am going to share with you (in no particular order) 10 pros who had a huge impact on my poker career. Some were private coaches and I battled others on the felt, but all left a positive lasting impression on me.

David Benefield

David “Raptor” Benefield was my first online poker friend. I used to lurk on an old poker forum and one day I posted that I was “jcardshark”, the unknown guy who was tearing up the $215 buy-in sit n’ go’s on PartyPoker. David, one of the most popular online players of the time, messaged me and asked if I wanted to talk strategy on AIM, which of course I did. We became great friends and talked through AIM basically every day for three years while we grinded the sit n’ go’s. David was one of the first people to do what was thought to be impossible: play 4 tables at the same time. I quickly followed suit. He then moved to 16 tables and I did the same. I seemed to always be one step behind him, but that was fine because he was (and still is) ten steps ahead of everyone else. 

Shannon Shorr

Shannon Shorr and I have traveled and roomed together a bunch over the last 10 years. Like many of my poker friends, I met Shannon in the PartyPoker sit n’ go’s. He was clearly a good player but had a propensity to berate people when they played poorly. I asked him to message me on AIM and enlightened him as to why berating weak players is a bad idea. He took kindly to it and we started talking strategy and working hard to improve together. Shannon was my best man at my wedding. He is great!

Bill Seymour

Bill Seymour was my first poker coach. I found him by searching “poker coaching” on google. Unlike almost everyone, he seemed to never get rattled at the poker table. When his opponents took a bad beat, they lost their minds. When Bill took a bad beat, he was stoic and continued playing great poker. I remember traveling to a live tournament stop with him and watched him play the $100 and $200 satellites (at which he was known to be world-class). He won almost every time! Bill plays all the game well, something that I certainly can’t do, and has stood the test of time, which is something almost no poker players can claim. He was a pioneer, opening one of the first poker training sites,, which I eventually took over. 

Andrew Robl

Andrew “Good2CU” Robl is another one of my friends from my sit n’ go days. He taught me to loosen up and stop being such a nit, both on and off the table. He was the first person to put the idea of physical fitness on my radar. Similar to Raptor, Good2CU seemed to be (and still is) one step ahead of everyone else. He can currently be found playing the biggest cash games in the world. He is the end boss of poker. 

Greg Shahade

Greg “Curtains” Shahade was my second official poker coach. While I was having decent results in the $200 sit n’ go’s, I realized my edge was diminishing. It was initially winning $20 per game (10% ROI) but eventually dropped to 2%. I decided to hire a coach and found Greg, who was crushing the $100 games at some insane rate like 20% ROI. It may seem silly to hire someone who is playing lower stakes than you for lessons, but it was clear through Greg’s writing that he was one of the best and could easily beat the $200 games if he wanted to. He told me that the only reason he didn’t play the $200 games was because he didn’t want to experience gigantic swings, which is a concept I carry with me to this day. Just because you have an edge does not mean you should play. He also taught me to stop pushing all-in with A-x from early and middle position for 10 big blinds. That alone increased my ROI back to 8% and allowed me to print money for a few more years before transitioning to live tournaments when I turned 21. 

David Pham

While I have never had a strategy discussion with David “the Dragon” Pham, I have learned a ton by watching him at the table. In a world where everyone played a tight, cautious game, he would reraise and run insane bluffs to his heart’s content. This occasionally sent him to the rail early, but often led to him having a mountain of chips. I realize this makes him sound like a maniac, but I have also witnessed him make some overly tight folds, including one against me deep in a WPT where he raised to 2.5 big blinds from the button, I went all-in for 14 big blinds, and he folded A-J face-up. Of course, I had K-K. Don’t mess with the Dragon!

Lee Markholt

I have the utmost respect for Lee Markholt. He is truly a master of no-limit hold’em, excelling at both nosebleed cash games and high stakes tournaments. While he seems to play a decent amount of hands, he always seems to have top set at the showdown, earning him the nickname “Top Set”. Lee has taken my money many times by showing me top set (and sometimes just Ace-high). Thanks for that! Lee is my favorite poker player.

Aaron O’Rourke

Aaron “Daliman” O’Rourke was one of the pioneers of early sit n’ go strategy. I learned a lot about sit n’ go’s, cash games, sports betting, and casino games from him. Many times, we have won and lost money together. There is something about winning and losing together that bonds people, which doesn’t happen too often in poker because it tends to be an individual game. We always seem to be on the same team though. Win or lose, I am happy to be in action with Daliman.

Hoyt Corkins

Hoyt Corkins is an awesome dude. He is my hiking buddy whenever we are both in Vegas, which at this point seems to only be during the WSOP. Hoyt taught me long before the GTO solvers to really push the aggression in spots where the opponent should have a range they cannot defend properly. As an aspiring poker player, I remember watching Hoyt push around (and get a bit lucky against) Phil Hellmuth in one of the first WPTs. It was fun to watch! 

Mike Sexton

Mike Sexton is the reason many poker players play the game. He was not only the face of the WPT (the show that brought poker into our homes each and every week on the Travel Channel), he was also instrumental in making PartyPoker the most popular and trusted poker site in existence. I have hung out and played with Mike on many occasions and he is as real as they come. He is larger than life, but still down to earth and kind. We could not ask for a better poker ambassador. I can’t think of a better person to represent the game we love.
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Friday, August 25, 2017

Folding a Flush in Main Event?

Day 1 of the 2017 WSOP Main Event went about as well as possible for me. I correctly assessed most of my opponents’ tendencies and played a strategy designed to take advantage of their mistakes. I called down the overly aggressive players with a wide range and made big folds against the straightforward players when they decided to put a lot of money in the pot. I ended day 1 with four starting stacks, 211,300, which was good for fourth place in my portion of the field going into day 2a.

Despite winning most of my hands, I made what turned out to be an incorrect fold with a flush near the end of the day. With blinds at 250/500 with a 75 ante, everyone folded to me in the small blind and I limped 7c-2c out of my 100,000 effective stack. The big blind, who arrived to the table about 15 minutes earlier, checked. He came to the table with more chips than most of my opponents, but he seemed to be a recreational player, although it is difficult to say with no clear information.

Some players may question limping 7c-2c, but unless the big blind is overly aggressive, limping with all your suited hands will win a bit more money than folding due to the excellent pot odds. Notice I have to put in 250 chips into a pot that will be 1,675, meaning I only need to realize my equity 15% of the time to break even, which isn’t too difficult to accomplish. To compensate for limping lots of junk, I also limp some of my best hands, strengthening my limping range.

The flop came Jh-5c-3c. I bet 1,000 into the 1,675 pot and my opponent called.

I am fine with my flop bet, although perhaps a smaller bet would be ideal. In general, when you limp from the small blind and the big blind checks, you can make a 1.25 big blind bet and steal the pot most of the time when your weak, straightforward opponents fail to improve. Even if your opponent calls, it isn’t a big deal, due to your small bet size.

The turn was the (Jh-5c-3c)-5s. I bet 1,500 into the 3,675 pot, my opponent raised to 4,100, and I called.

The 5s on the turn is a particularly bad card to continue barreling on because now a 5 is never folding, whereas an unimproved middle pair may, but given I have a draw that has essentially no showdown value, I am fine betting. I would also continue betting with all my trips, top pairs, and some of my flush and straight draws, making my range quite strong. Once my opponent raises, I think calling is fine, again due to my pot odds. When my opponent raises, his range should be mostly trips and bluffs, most of which he should continue betting on most rivers, meaning I should have decent implied odds if I improve to a flush.

The river was the (Jh-5c-3c-5s)-Jc, giving me a flush, but also double-pairing the board. I checked, my opponent bet 6,500 into the 11,875 pot, and I folded.

While the Jc may appear like a good river because it improves me to a flush, it also improves my opponent’s oddly played top pairs to a full house. Clearly I also lose to the other obvious made hand, trip 5s, which also improved to a full house. I also lose to better flushes, which may or may not bet the river (given I should have all Jacks and 5s in my range). Since I know I would play all my full houses in this manner, the 7-high flush is actually one of the worst hands I should have in this spot. With no reads, it is rarely a bad strategy to fold the bottom of your range. That said, it is worth noting that many straightforward players only raise the turn with a 5 but then cautiously check behind on the river, fearing the better full house (which isn’t such an irrational fear). If I knew my opponent thought in this manner, it removes both Jacks and 5s from his range (because he wouldn’t raise Jacks on the turn), allowing me to make a hero-call.

I later found out that my opponent posted on one of the poker forums that he decided to bluff me on this hand to try to slow me down because I was playing more than my fair share of pots, making it difficult for him to enter the pot with a wide range. While that strategy is often fine, especially early in the day, this is not the best spot to do it because my turn bet/calling range should be quite strong.

When these plays work, they seem amazing but most of the time they will fail. Fortunately for my opponent, this time I had a flush draw and not a made hand.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you will love my interactive poker training site, There you can test yourself with over 100 interactive quizzes and study the game with me with monthly homework questions and review webinars. If you want to take your game to the next level, sign up for a completely free one-week trial at

Sunday, January 1, 2017

ALL IN Early!

Today I am going to share a hand with you that I played last year in the $1,500 buy-in Monster Stack WSOP event. This event was different from other $1,500 events in that each player started with an overly deep stack. This was third hand of the day 1.
A 35 year old guy who I did not know raised to 525 out of his 15,000 stack at 100/200 from middle position. Everyone folded around to me and I called with 4c-3c from the big blind.
Both calling and folding are fine options. I strongly suggest that you learn to profitably call in these situation because being able to continue with a wide range of hands will make you much more difficult to play against compared to if you only play strong hands in an obvious manner. If you constantly keep your opponents guessing, they will make mistakes. If they usually know where you stand, they will play well. For those who do not know, you profit when your opponents make errors. When they play well, you do not profit.
The flop came Ac-Jc-4d, giving me bottom pair and a weak flush draw.
I checked to my opponent, as I tend to do with all of my hands, and he bet 700 into the 1,150 pot. I decided to check-raise to 1,700.
If the stacks were a different size, either shallower or deeper, I would likely have called. If the stacks are shorter, my opponent would be able to realistically go all-in, forcing me to make a decision for my tournament life with a hand that I know will win roughly 50% of the time (in general, if you have edge, you want to avoid coin-flip scenarios). If the stacks were deeper, my opponent could call and play intelligently on the turn, folding when the draws complete and calling when they don’t. With the current stack size, going all-in would be a huge over-bet and calling would allow me to put significant pressure on him on the turn by betting again, making all of his options somewhat marginal.
My opponent surprised me by 3-betting to 5,000, leaving only 9,475 remaining in his stack.
I was fairly confident that my opponent liked his hand. However, I thought that he could like a strong hand such as A-K or A-Q but still be willing to fold if I pushed all-in. I was aware that countless players traveled a great distance to play this event and would certainly not want to bust out on the third hand of the day. I did not care if I busted because this event was one of many that I would play throughout the series. For a professional, no individual event is emotionally significant.
This gave me the courage to go all-in.
While attempting to bluff someone off a likely strong hand is rarely a good idea, occasionally it makes perfect sense.
My opponent looked disgusted. He asked me a few questions, trying to get a read, but of course I did not reply. He thought for around three minutes before folding A-J face up. He proceeded to tell me that he knew I got lucky to flop a set and that anyone else at the table would not have been able to make the great fold that he made.
222Be sure you are not one of these players who thinks you always make the right play. If I thought he had an effectively unfoldable hand like top two-pair, I certainly would not have tried this semi-bluff. When your opponents are looking for a reason to make a big fold, do not be afraid to get out of line and induce them to make a huge mistake.
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Friday, April 22, 2016

Small Stakes Poker Tournament

Today I will share with you a hand from the $1,111 buy-in Little One Drop event that took place during the 2015 World Series of Poker. This event attracted a huge field of 4,555 people. I managed to take 67th place for $7,215, which is always nice. When playing in a tournament consisting of mostly amateur players, it is important to steal lots of pots by making your opponent feel as if his entire stack is at risk while only risking a small portion of yours. It is also important to quantify your opponent’s range and choose bet sizes that will allow you to achieve whatever result you want. The following hand beautifully illustrates these concepts. I thoroughly discuss these concepts, and many more, in my best-selling book, Strategies for Beating Small Stakes Poker Tournaments. Be sure to check it out!
The blinds were 50/100. A tight amateur raised to 250 from second position out of his 8,000 stack. Another tight amateur with 13,000 called from middle position. I, with 15,500 chips, woke up with Ad-Kc on the button. In this spot, both calling and reraising are fine options. If I thought the initial raiser was only raising with premium hands, I would call because if I reraised and the initial raiser applied pressure, I would be in a tough spot. Even if he called my reraise, I would not be thrilled. If instead, I thought he was capable of raising lots of hands that are inferior to A-K, such as A-10 and K-J, I would certainly reraise. This time, I decided to reraise to 700. I picked this size in order to keep my opponents in with numerous hands I dominate. Notice if I reraise large, perhaps to 1,300, which is the play most amateurs would make, my opponents would fold the dominated hands I really want to keep in. Both the initial raiser and the caller called 450 more.
2013 World Series of Poker $10K Main Event Final TableThe flop came 6h-4h-4d. My opponents checked to me. I could easily have the best hand on this flop but that does not necessarily mean I should continuation bet. If I think my opponents will only call with hands that beat me, such as 9-9 and 6c-5c, I should check behind. If I made a large continuation bet, perhaps 1,600 into the 2,250 pot, that would often be the result. However, I thought if I instead made a bet of 800, numerous hands I crush, such as A-10 and K-Q, would call to see what develops on the turn. It is important to always think about how your opponents will react to each bet size then pick the size that leads to the result you want. Since I do not want to give a free card to hands like Q-J and 10-9, I need to bet, but if I bet large, my opponents will only call when I am beat. This makes a small bet ideal. So, I bet 800. The initial raiser folded and the tight player from middle position called.
The turn was the (6h-4h-4d)-9c. My opponent checked. At this point, I thought that if I continued firing my opponent would likely fold all marginal made hands, perhaps middle pair and worse, while still calling with all draws. Since my opponent only had 11,400 remaining in his stack, I wanted to choose a size that would imply that I could go all-in on the river, reinforcing that he should fold his marginal made hands. Since the pot was 4,050, I thought a bet of 2,600 would make him realize that he could face an all-in river bet. Notice if my opponent calls 2,600, he will have 8,800 remaining in his stack and the pot will be 9,250, allowing me to go all-in on the river for a touch less than the size of the pot. You should always size your bets such that you can find yourself at the river with the ideal stack for your situation. Do not simply blindly bet any street for ½ or 2/3 of the size of the pot every time. You must think ahead if you want to succeed at poker. I bet 2,600 and unfortunately, my opponent called.
The river was the (6h-4h-4d-9c)-2h. My opponent checked. At this point, I thought my opponent either had a flush, an overpair, a stubborn middle pair or a busted draw. I assumed he would certainly check with his overpairs, middle pairs and busted draws. I was unsure if he would bet into me or check with a flush. It is quite common for amateur players to lead out when they complete their draw because they don’t want to look foolish when the river checks through. This led me to assume he had mostly one pair hands and busted draws in his range. It is important to recognize that I could easily have a flush because I would almost certainly play all flush draws the same way up until this point. I was also unsure if my opponent would be willing to risk his entire stack on the river by making a hero call. All of this led me to put my opponent all-in for his remaining 8,800 stack. My opponent looked miserable and thought for around three minutes before folding.
While this play is clearly risky, I think the bluff is mandatory on the river, especially against a conservative player. If I can make him fold all of his one pair hands, which should be a large portion of his range, an all-in river bluff will show significantly more profit than checking. Always be sure to quantify your opponent’s range and choose your action based on that range.
SMPDo you have an interesting hand you want to share with me? If so, upload them to ShareMyPair and send the link to me on twitter @JonathanLittle. Be sure to check back next week for another educational blog post. Thanks for reading!