Five Pro-Endorsed Strategy Tips That Are Terrible

Phil Hellmuth
Not every piece of pro advice is worth taking.

Poker is a unique game and the best players use a combination of math, skill and observation to beat it.

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 canseem 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 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.

assets/photos/authors/_resampled/croppedimage6060-daniel-skolovy.jpg
About Daniel Skolovy

Daniel Skolovy started out in the gaming industry as a lowly dealer, spending countless graveyard shifts dealing blackjack, pai gow, carribean stud, baccarat, etc. He quickly became bored dealing games that were so obviously weighted in the house's favor.

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H 2014-11-25 11:53:54

Phil Gordon did not say 4-bet means aces, he said 4-raise means aces, that's 5-bet.

Chris 2014-10-06 21:04:02

Wtf is all this shit underneath me? Anyway, cool advice, really helped. I plan to read every one of those books and I'm currently on Harrington. I'm def not the greatest poker player (haha) but I love it and I'm always learning. I know I'll go pro someday.

Ben 2014-07-30 09:46:48

I agree with Seans exception. Sometimes, especially in lower-buyin tournaments (and larger ones on 888!) a raise of 2-3xBB will do little to chase out the weak hands, it simply acts as a pot sweetener. raises of 4/5xBB ensures that only reasonable hands remain and reduces the chance of a nasty suckout.

... 2013-12-19 11:31:47

these comments are hilarious.. the advice is solid. 4x and 5x pre flop means you're playing with fish or at a bar for play money

Person 2013-10-11 10:03:26

No pro, but it all makes sense, #5: you could raise blind to POSSIBLY win more. #2: Probably not JUST aces, probably face cards too.
Good advice though.

Sean 2013-02-17 10:55:03

I would not pretend to be an expert but the last bit of advice on varying bet amounts left me with the exception in mind.

"The better approach: If you’re playing in a tournament there’s really no reason to raise 4x the big blind -- ever."

Well I can think of an exception. I play a tournament almost daily and one thing about the tournament in that the average bet on these tables is 3x the BB. 4 and 5 is not uncommon at all.

So a bet or raise of 2 to 2.5x the BB will have absolutely no affect on the players in that tournament and most of the time you will find 5 or more callers. Now if you are trying to pump up the pot that is great but if you want to push off the weak drawing hands that could suck you out you will need to bet 3 to 5xs the BB.

So I would that the bet is largely situational.

Raen 2013-01-27 15:41:20

#5: ...not buying it. Not the main point - you're right that not varying your raises within a blind level can be as effective as varying them randomly - but the idea that there's no reason to go straight to 4 BBs in a tournament. In a lot of tournament situations, especially with the blinds low, 2.5 BBs is an expensive call.

Doodie 2012-12-29 17:49:55

I laughed when you started criticising the genius sklanskys advice. I think you've taken the quote completely out of context and Sklansky would never say something as basic and idiotic as raise for information without a load of caveats... No strat here guys just dumb writing..

buh 2012-11-10 11:53:16

You're not always betting/raising for the same reason so why the heck would you use static bet sizing? What good is an isolation raise if its only 2.5x the bb? The problem with these rules and with your counter argument is that the situation is always completely variable. Each situation in poker is different and very rarely will you find yourself in the same position in later hands/rounds/tourneys. The best advice in poker is to try to not make the same mistake twice. If you learn from your mistakes, maybe you'll be a consistent winner when you've pretty much made them all... in the meantime, try to limit your losses. As i read here on this site: if you want to be good at poker, you have to become really good at not losing.

scott 2012-08-22 05:09:06

I admit I am still a fish and not that good (hopefully improving) , but I don't agree with 4.

The reason is because if you pay attention to players and have been getting a read off them, raising can help fill in gaps in the particular play you are involved in; although, this strategy may be dependent on what level you play at.

Another factor to consider is your own mind set when making these plays. If you raise with a medium pair say to determine where your opponent is at, are you disciplined enough to avoid making a mistake if the play continues.

I think this approach has value but is very situational. Your stack size, your read, your own state of mind, stage of the game.

Since I am a fish and haven't had much success yet, my opinion may be null and void. :)