“It’s not who wins the battle; it’s who wins the war.”
In NLH all manner of plays are possible. You can fold K-K before the flop or move all-in with 2-7 off suit, bluffing before the flop, if your judgement is good enough. By the way, I’ve folded K-K before the flop only a few times in my life, and every time I did, I was right, because my opponent did indeed have A-A! One thing you’ll learn as you play more poke is that when someone has the best possible hand, he is often easily readable.
Quiz show hosts like to say, when the pauses are too protracted, “Go with your first gut instinct. That first instinct is always right.” You’ll find yourself in a lot of interesting situation in NLH where your judgement and your guts will be severely tested. Whether or not you make the right decisions will go far toward determining whether or not you’ll win for the day (it helps to have good cards too). You think that you’re under pressure at work? I’ve seen players who have all their money in the world on the table call other players’ bluffs for all their money. It other words, if they’re wrong, the they’re busted!
One excellent rule for NLH is this: if you can’t allow yourself to fold the best hand, then you can’t win. In many of the tournaments that I’ve won I’ve had occasion to fold the winning hand. In the World Championships in 1989, when just four players were left, I folded pocket tens before the flop against Johnny Chan’s pockets nines in a big pot, but I still went on to win the tournament! It’s not who wins the battle; it’s who wins the war. Don’t be afraid to fold your hand in NLH if you think that it’s beaten. If it was the winner, so what? You made your decision, and you’re still at the table with chips. Stay focused on winning, not on looking back at your untimely fold.
Phil’s NLH Strategy:
I like to take pieces of every different strategy I’ll be laying out below and keep them in my arsenal for eventual use. I like to stick to a very tight beginner-type overall strategy, one involving playing very few hands for the most part. In this way, there isn’t too much pressure on me to make tough decisions all the time. So most of the time in NLH I like to play only the “NLH fifteen” hands.
When someone behind me is playing too tightly, in NLH, I like to raise the pot to try to steal the blinds from him, whenever it’s his big blind.
I trust my instincts when I’m deciding whether or not a player is bluffing. My poker instincts have been very, very good to me. I hone these instincts by practicing reading my opponents when I’m out of the hand being played, to try to get a better read on them for when I need it later. (In mentioning my own play I’m trying only to show you what’s possible if you practice and develop your instincts.)
If someone has raised in front of me and I feel that he is weak, I usually fold anyway. But at the end of the hand I’ll watch to see if he exposes his hole cards, so that I can confirm that he was weak or see that I was wrong. If I have confirmation that I was right, then I wait for him to do it again. Anyone who makes one weak raise can be expected to make more than one. When that player makes another raise and I feel it is weak, I go ahead and reraise him, to force him to fold his weak hand. This reraise wins many more chips than a mere blind steal would win, but you’re also risking a lot more chips to win the pot when you reraise on a bluff.
Phil Hellmuth Jr is a 13-time World Series of Poker Champion, leading all other poker players in the world. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, and his latest book, “Deal me in,” is also widely popular. Visit philhellmuth.com to check out his clothing line, blog and exclusive gaming tips.