By Chris Torina
Every few weeks, DeepStacks pros such as WSOP champions Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi and Tristan “Cre8ive” Wade walk into poker rooms across the country to teach training courses. And without fail, they see the same glaring mistakes over and over.
Inexperienced players are playing too wide a range of hands and compounding the problem with incorrect bet sizing.
Look, we’ve all watched TV as guys like Mizrachi, Phil Ivey and the legendary Doyle Brunson scooped up huge pots with less-than-premium cards. K-9 offsuit? Doyle’s famous 10-2 offsuit? No problem, they can win those hands.
Why not? They’ve been playing poker their entire adult lives. Playing these hands is part of a deep, well-thought-out strategy that often leads to pros winning on reputation and table image alone.
But you don’t have a reputation. You don’t have a history. In fact, if you’re new to tournament poker, you haven’t logged enough hours at the tables to have developed a long-term strategy.
For new players and/or smaller-stakes players, playing these hands is a surefire way to lose big. But that’s fine; you have to start somewhere, right?
At DeepStacks Live camps, we begin by fixing the holes in our students’ games. How often have you or an opponent opened a pot with hands like K-10 or A-7 suited, or even a small pocket pair like 2-2 or 3-3? While most players like to play those types of hands a majority of time, at the end of the day, without proper education and training, it leads to problems. Big problems.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Those hands have value in certain situations. But more often than not, they are a really good way of getting yourself into tough spots at the tables. To be successful in poker, you need a plan, and that begins with educating yourself so that long-term success can be yours.
When you first start playing, live by the mantra Tight is Right, or Stay Solid. Playing tight or solid helps limit the number of hands you play out of position and the number of draws you try to chase. By not playing hands like A-3 or A-5 out of position, you stay out of danger. Trust me, this will go a long way toward bolstering your game and, quite frankly, your bankroll.
This will also help your table image. Tight players are sometimes targeted less than ultra-aggressive players, because the tight players limit themselves to playing only quality holdings. As a novice, playing a tight style will lower your risk — i.e., variance — and help with your decision-making along the way.
However, as you play more often and see more cards, and start to log a number of winning sessions, you can begin playing a wider range of starting hands. Your optimal range of starting hands is directly related to how good you are and your ability to pick up on conscious and subconscious indicators — physical tells, betting patterns or the number of hands your opponent is opening with, for example.
It’s better to play tight and solid than loose and aggressive, especially if you are new to the game.
(Chris Torina is the president and CEO of the DeepStacks Poker Tour and DeepStacks Live poker training seminars. DeepStacks Live courses happen at poker rooms and casinos across the U.S and Canada. Check www.deepstacks.com for tour dates and training camps.)