Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 21: Contributing to Jonathan Little’s New Book

Jonathan Little's Excelling at No-Limit Hold'em

During the 2014 World Series of Poker while on the dinner break of some random tournament, I struck up a conversation with Jonathan Little. I’ve always respected the World Poker Tour champ as a player, but even more so as an author, especially his Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker series. So when Little asked if I’d be interested in contributing a chapter to his next book, of course I was as giddy as a schoolgirl.

Writing my own poker book has always been a dream of mine (I’d rather write something history-related as opposed to strategy), and while I still hope to do that one day, contributing a chapter to D&B Publishing’sExcelling at No-Limit Hold’em — especially alongside a roster of high caliber players — was a very exciting opportunity.

Among the 17 players each contributing a chapter to the book are Phil Hellmuth, Mike Sexton, Olivier Busquet, Liv Boeree, Chris Moneymaker, Scott Clements, and Alex Fitzgerald. Obviously being in that company is humbling, and I was extremely honored Little felt I had something to offer.

Speaking of which, Little gave all contributors free rein to write about whatever they wanted. As I said, writing about strategy hasn’t always been my strong point (ironic, I know, as this is part of my strategy series), and I figured there were plenty of other contributors more qualified than I am to talk about equity, playing in big-money tournaments, and so on. With that in mind, I decided to go a different route and examine the evolution of poker since the so-called “poker Boom.”

I did this by choosing several transformations that have occurred over the years, and offered hands I felt were demonstrative of the following concepts/topics:

  • Outdated Poker Adages
  • Bigger Buy-Ins and Deeper Stacks
  • A Shift in Poker’s Predominant Strategy
  • Preflop Aggression
  • Check-Raising My Way to a WSOP Bracelet
  • Incorporating the Float
  • Getting Away from Big Hands
  • Tells vs. Range
  • More Opportunities to Learn

Most of those topics are anchored by poker hands I either witnessed (e.g., Joe Tehan’s epic shove with {4-Hearts}{2-Diamonds} in an Epic Poker event) or played when I won Event #1: $500 Casino Employees at the 2013 World Series of Poker. In other words, I tried to cover a broad range of changes while infusing them with my own personal experiences. It was a lot of work, but in the end I was happy with how it turned out.

Here’s a short sample from my chapter, which begins the section titled Lessons from the Past — Outdated Poker Adages:

The poker boom sparked a poker renaissance. Tens of thousands of players were introduced to the game, and all were eager to learn its intricacies. Books and articles of the day advocated a certain playing style that included “tight is right” and “if you can’t raise, don’t play.” Such words of wisdom served players well for many years, but as the game evolved, many of these adages have fallen by the wayside.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), many of these maxims are still the foundation of many players’ games. If that’s you, don’t feel guilty. From 2005-2010, my poker game remained largely unchanged and was underpinned by principles I’d learned years before. I was winning at that time, so there was no need to change.

Unfortunately players got better and the game began to transform. Simply put, players were evolving and I wasn’t adapting. I tried the same old tricks, which were no longer working, so of course, I began to lose. An extended downswing will make anyone reexamine their game, and I was no exception. Believe me, it wasn’t easy to admit that I was no longer good at a game I loved, but once I did, I resolved to overhaul my strategy so that I could compete and win.

Below are three strategies that were once the norm in poker. Some still have a place in the game, but others are hopelessly outdated. So, if you’re playing with these things in mind, it’s probably time to change your game.

Tight is Right — It wasn’t long ago when playing tight in tournaments was the thing to do. Everyone would wait patiently for a big hand, but then someone came along and realized they could amass tons of chips by stealing the blinds and antes. Before long, others picked up on it, and an “aggression race” was on.

I’ll talk more about preflop aggression later in this chapter, but for now, know that playing too tight will open the door for players to take advantage of you. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for “tight is right.” It should be a gear you use on occasion, not a playing style in itself.

Open-raise for 3-4x the Big Blind — Over the years, the standard amount to open-raise preflop has declined; in fact, many players now open for the absolute minimum. For example, if the blinds were 500/1,000 then the raiser would come in for 2,000. That worked for a while as players were hesitant to protect their blinds, but after players began to defend with a wider range of hands, the standard raise worked its way up 2.25-3x the size of big blind.

Never Min-Raise / Respect the Raiser — Min-raising used to be a rare thing in no-limit hold’em mainly because it was perceived as a weak move. However, when players realized that oftentimes they could win a pot with minimal investment, the min-raise came into fashion. As a result, the power of the raise was diluted. Players only used to raise with premium cards, but now it seems any two cards will do.

That’s just a little taste of what my chapter has to offer. In addition, you’ll find a huge range of topics from the other contributors including satellite strategy, game theory optimal strategies, and moving up in stakes and staying there, just to name a few.

Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em is set to publish on June 13, which coincides with the 2015 WSOP. From what I understand, there will be some sort of launch party in Vegas, and I hope those at the Rio will find time to come. Meanwhile, you can preorder the 500-page book by clicking here.

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