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Jonathan Little: “I Don’t Think I Was a Natural at Poker”
Jonathan Little is your ideal multi-faceted poker pro. He’s not just a player, but also a coach, promoter and writer.
Little has essentially carved out a little empire for himself in an era where profiting from poker is getting harder and harder.
PokerListings’ Dirk Oetzmann caught up with Little at EPT Deauville and discussed his longevity in the game, optimal game theory and why you might want to listen to Phil Hellmuth.
PL: After ten years of professional poker how do you keep up your motivation?
JL: I don’t think it was always up. There have been times when it was very low.
Teaching people has shown me that I can always learn something new and it keeps the game fun.
If you just sit in front of the screen and play at home, you’ll get bored.
PL: There are quite a few player who felt burnt out very early in their career. Mike McDonald wasn’t even old enough to walk into a casino in the US when he "retired".
JL: It’s exactly that. These guys sit at home and play the game all the time, until they can’t stand it anymore.
I have found a way of life where I play live tournaments maybe two weeks a month. Then I’m at home for two weeks, but I don’t really play that much in that time.
If you take some down time, it makes you feel like you want to play again. So, I get to do exactly what I want to do.
PL: They also say poker is getting too tough these days. Is it true?
JL: It’s getting too tough for some people. It’s always been too tough for some people.
Any game where there is skill involved people will get better over time. You have to make sure you stay in the profitable section.
Maybe ten years ago, 20 percent of the players could be winners, and today it’s only five percent.
So as long as you are in these five percent it’s not really an issue.
PL: You write a lot, you coach and take videos. Where does the urge to teach people come from?
JL: I don’t know. I realize that I learn from other people a lot. I don’t think I was naturally good at poker. I think I was naturally bad at poker.
So I took a lot of time to study, and I feel that many of the resources I went through weren’t good, so I recompiled the good ones for the generation after me, to make it as easy as possible for them to become good.
PL: Even coaches often admit that they’d never give away crucial information. How honest are you in what you’re doing?
JL: I’m very honest. The thing is, once you get to the highest levels, it becomes very difficult to teach anyone.
On that level, poker is more of a feel game and you just try to play game theory optimally.
If you manage to do that, you’re not going to be beat up either way. Most of the players I teach do pretty well at mid-stakes games, but if they are willing to give it a shot at the highest stakes, they’ll be very welcome.
PL: Is it even possible as a human to play optimally?
JL: It definitely is with short stacks but not necessarily with deep stacks. Some people think they know what they’re doing but only a few of them are actually close to playing perfectly.
PL: What do you think of the new, unbeatable software Cepheus?
JL: Yeah, I’m not really concerned about that. It’s about heads-up Limit Hold'em and that’s not an incredibly difficult game.
It was going to get solved sooner or later. Like checkers, or chess.
Limit poker has been dead for quite a while. It’s not really an issue if a game is solved that no one plays.
No-Limit Hold’em is considerably more difficult, as you can pick your bet size, and that turns it into a completely different game.
PL: You are one of a few players who praises Phil Hellmuth’s game. Why do so many people think he sucks? He has more bracelets than anyone.
JL: He definitely doesn’t play standard. But you have to recognize that if somebody’s winning consistently over so many years, there’s probably something to it.
There are certainly things he does wrong but there are also a ton of things that he does right.
And if you’re playing live poker and you can tell that your opponent’s bluffing, that completely screws his range.
There’s no need for anything anywhere near standard play if you know the other guy has nothing or the nuts.
I played a hand today where I folded top pair with Q-J on a jack high flop. I just thought they both had a strong hand.
I didn’t know if it was better than Q-J but I knew they felt strong. So I folded and got out without losing money.
As it turned out one of them had a set and the other one probably had an over pair.
However — according to optimal game theory — you shouldn’t fold that hand as it’s too strong.
PL: Would you recommend poker as a career for young people?
JL: No. It’s too difficult to get started if you’re not good already. I wouldn’t recommend chess to anybody either, for the same reasons.
The best players in the world will always demolish you.
PL: Your next project is?
JL: Jonathan Little on Live No Limit Cash Games Volume 2 is coming out soon.