It takes a brilliant mind to understand and win at poker - and an even more brilliant one to invent the strategy basics that are now commonplace.
These geniuses do their best to solve the game as it’s played at the time.
But the game of poker has evolved a lot over the last decade, and will continue to. What might have worked 10 years ago can seem silly now.
And winning strategies today might not be effective at all 10 years from now.
Below are a few of those strategies - endorsed by some of the most famous names in the game, no less - that may have worked in the past but have passed their prime.
1. Reraise with Small Pairs Before the Flop in Limit Hold’em
The Author: Phil Hellmuth
The Book: Play Poker Like the Pros
The Advice: When the pot is raised to you in Limit Hold’em and you hold a small pair, you’re better to make it three-bets rather than call the original raise. You’re then meant to “represent whatever hits the flop.”
Why it’s bad: The problem with this advice is that he’s writing a book for beginners and beginners are going to play in small-stakes games. People in small-stakes games play tons of hands.
You’re not going to be able to represent anything on the flop because people are just playing their hands. They don’t care that you made it three-bets to go. They care that they flopped top pair and they aren’t going to fold.
You end up just putting more bets into the pot without ever being able to get them back unless you flop a set.
The better approach: In Limit Hold’em, especially in low-stakes Limit Hold’em, you should just call because you’re more likely to get callers behind you. Play the hand to flop a set and if you don’t, fold.
2. The Fourth Raise Means Aces
The Author: Phil Gordon
The Book: Little Green Book
The Advice: "The fourth raise is always aces."
Why it’s bad: It’s not so much “bad” as it is dated and wrong. The top players today are four-betting so much more than aces it’s incredible.
Take a look at Shaun Deeb’s bustout hand from the 2011 Main Event, for just one example.
No longer is even the 5th or 6th bet guaranteed to be aces.
The better approach: Treat all players individually.
For some players the fourth bet might always mean aces, but other players might still have any two.
3. If You’re Playing Small Connected Cards, They Don’t Need to be Suited
The Author: TJ Cloutier
The Book: Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold’em
The Advice: Small connectors don’t need to be suited because in multi-way pots there’s a high likelihood someone has higher cards of your suit.
Cloutier says that the suit causes more harm than good when you make a flush and lose to a bigger flush.
Why it’s bad: There’s literally no way that unsuited cards would ever be better than suited cards.
The notion that the suit does more harm than good is ridiculous.
Yes, occasionally you’re going to make a flush and it’s going to be second best. But also occasionally you’re going to be drawing to a straight and backdoor the flush.
The better approach: Being suited gives you more ways to win. It’s as simple as that.
4. Raise for Information
The Author: David Sklansky
The Book: Theory of Poker
The Advice: You sometimes want to raise to find out where you’re at in a hand.
Why it’s bad: It’s bad because the information you get is often not very helpful.
E.g. You raise and your opponent folds. This is bad. Chances are he folded a bluff and you probably would have preferred he kept trying to bluff you.
E.g. You raise and he calls. How much does that really tell you?
He could have a draw, he could have a hand he's slow playing, he could have you beat, he could not have you beat.
If he re-raises, he could have you beat. He could also be playing a big draw fast or a worse hand fast.
The better approach: There are ways to define a hand, but generally raising isn’t a very good one.
Pay attention to your opponents and their previous play will give you a better idea as to what they have.
Actively try and put your opponent on a range and with every new bit of information you’ll get closer to his hand.
5. Vary Your Opening Amount
The Author: Dan Harrington
The Book: Harrington On Hold’em 1
The Advice: In a tournament you should vary your opening size from 2x to 4x randomly to make it difficult for your opponents to not get a read on you.
Why it’s bad: The only reason you need to vary your bet sizing randomly is if you’re regularly raising different amounts.
If you’re raising the exact same size every single time it’s not like your opponents will pick up any tells on you because your bet is always the same.
The better approach: If you’re playing in a poker tournament there’s really no reason to raise 4x the big blind -- ever.
Keep your standard 2.25x to 2.5x raise and stick with it. It risks less chips and is just as effective.
Raising to 4x just needlessly risks chips.