Jonathan Little is back again with a new poker strategy title due out soon from D&B Poker. As he’s done in the past, the poker pro and coach has assembled a team of poker pros to share their hold’em wisdom in Jonathan Little’s Excelling at Tough No-Limit Hold’em Games.
This book especially targets players with some experience who have ambitions to move up in stakes.
Little’s 10 co-authors are all coaches with the backing company pocarr.com that also provides a comprehensive training site. Their students have enjoyed immense success in the World Championship of Online Poker and Spring Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars, and they bring their knowledge to readers wishing to do the same.
The book covers a number of topics related to the specific skill set players need to develop in order to move up from the lower stakes. Those topics include:
- Quick tips for beating the low stakes games
- Adjusting your preflop strategy
- When to c-bet (continuation bet)
- How to defend against c-bets
- Navigating multi-way pots
- Basic ICM (Independent Chip Model) and advanced ICM
- Medium stacked final table strategies
- Strategies to crush live poker
Here’s an excerpt from the book covering a particular strategy suggestion when medium-stacked at a final table — namely, using preflop limping as an occasional strategy.
Medium Stacked Final Table Strategies
In the late stages of a poker tournament, if you are not diligently paying attention to the chip stacks of each player as well as the payouts, you are making significant mistakes. While many players have the goal of winning each tournament they play, you should instead be trying to win as much money as possible. This is not always the same as playing to win the tournament. Many poker tournaments currently use similar payout structures, so once you understand the most common structures, you will be able to adjust slightly to account for flatter or steeper structures.
Utilizing a Limping Strategy
Your stack size, as well as the effective stack size, will be major factors in determining your strategy in a poker tournament. When you have a medium stack size between 18bbs and 35bbs, you are in a dicey spot. You need a premium hand to get all-in preflop due to the presence of shorter stacks, but if you raise, one of the large stacks will often apply pressure, potentially forcing you to play for all your chips. One way to continue playing a reasonable number of pots without putting your entire stack at risk is to develop a limping strategy.
In this chapter, I will walk you through two high stakes final tables I recently played where I am already in the money to show you how I adjust from my default strategy to account for ICM, allowing me to maximize my expected profit. These strategies are not GTO-solver-approved, but they work well against the general player pool and the specific players I faced at these final tables.
Example 1: $530 Buy-In
I have a medium stack of 23 big blinds. Two players have fewer chips, but four players have between 28 and 30 big blinds (Diagram 221).
A key ICM consideration is to avoid busting out before it becomes inevitable that a short stack is forced to go all-in.
Many players think that your only viable option when everyone folds to you with a playable hand is to min-raise. I tend to use a strategy where I raise my best hands and some hands that are not quite good enough to limp, opting to limp with my hands that flop well. This allows me to profitably play a wider range than if my only options were to raise or fold. Here is my rough strategy (Diagram 222).
Notice that this strategy has me limping a reasonably strong range. This is an excellent strategy as long as the big stacks yet to act do not raise to 4bbs or more with a wide range. When you are out of position (OOP) against a larger stack, you have to be incredibly cautious when calling down for large amounts of chips postflop because if you happen to be against a better hand, you are out of the tournament in 9th place. If you expect the players yet to act to apply frequent pressure, tighten up your preflop strategy. Fortunately, most players do not raise limps nearly as often as they should, allowing me to see many cheap flops with hands that flop well.
When using this limping strategy, if someone raises, the only hands you get all-in with are J-J – 9-9 and A-Q. Against a 4bb or larger raise, simply fold a lot with your non-premium hands. If the raise is smaller, you can call due to your excellent pot odds. As the effective stack gets deeper, you can limp and then call raises a bit more often.
If your opponents are weaker and more passive, which will often be the case in smaller stakes games, you may want to adjust by raising all your best hands and limping all your marginal hands. This is even more exploitable, but if your opponents will never adjust to exploit you, it is fine to be well out of line. Many small stakes players will see you limping a lot but will not realize that your range is capped and will not do anything to exploit you. They simply care about their own two cards, allowing you to use small postflop bets to run them over. Against these players, you get to realize a lot more of your equity, allowing you to play an even wider range. In general, as your skill advantage over your opponents increases, you want to play more pots with a deeper stack to pot ratio, which limping accomplishes.
If the big stack raises you large every time you limp (as many aggressive big stacks will), you should adjust. Either play a raise or fold strategy, or limp with many of your best hands and fewer marginal hands, resulting in him bluffing into your strong limping range. That said, my default strategy is to limp with a decently wide (13.7%) range of hands that play well, minus the absolute best hands (which I raise).
One bonus of limping with a decently wide range is that your weaker opponents will also start limping with all sorts of random hands, but they won’t have any idea of how to structure their range, and they will not play well postflop. This also allows you to play more hands in a profitable manner, extracting even more value.
Many limpers will limp an incredibly polarized range including A-A, K-K and all sorts of junky hands that they do not think are worthy of a raise. Against these players, you want to isolate them using a smaller raise size because when they call your raise, their range only contains junk, which you don’t mind keeping in when they are OOP. On the other hand, when they limp/3-bet, you will usually be against a premium range, so you want to lose the minimum. However, if someone uses the strategy I recommend, you will want to isolate using a large raise size because you want to price out the reasonably strong hands, plus you don’t have to worry about being pushed all-in on too often.
If you are fortunate enough to have a big stack when you encounter someone who uses a limping strategy like mine, you should do a ton of raising or 14 calling from the cutoff and button. You could play as much as 75% of hands, applying immense ICM pressure to the limper. Just be aware that your strong opponents will realize you are raising often and will adjust to take advantage of your counter-exploit. In all cases, focus on figuring out your opponent’s strategy and then adjust accordingly.
When you limp and see a heads-up pot, the plan is to frequently bet using a small bet size because most players tend to fold too often, especially if they are not sure what your range is.
With the A♦2♦, I simply folded due to the presence of the two shorter stacks and my early position. Just because a hand is decently playable does not mean that you have to play it every time.
It is worth noting that if the largest stack with 122 big blinds (who happened to be my co-author, Jon Van Fleet) was on the button, I would always fold. When the big stack is in middle position, he has to worry about raising into all the players yet to act, but when he is on the button, he can raise much more often due to only having to worry about the blinds. In this situation I do not expect the big stack to isolation raise too often, making it a more playable spot than if the big stack was on the button.
Jonathan Little’s Excelling at Tough No-Limit Hold’em Games is available for pre-order in paperback or as an e-book from D&B Poker.
D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Dr. Patricia Cardner, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.