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Capture the Flag -- Jonathan Little

by Kristy Arnett |  Published: Mar 01, 2010


Jonathan Little has risen to poker stardom as a result of his major-tournament success, winning two World Poker Tour titles and finishing third in the Card Player 2007 Player of the Year race. Although he travels the tournament circuit, where he’s earned $4.3 million in his career, he got his start in poker by playing cash games, and he continues to play in them during his time away from tournaments.
Jonathan Little
Kristy Arnett: What game and limits did you start playing, and what do you play on a regular basis these days?

Jonathan Little: The very first time I played cash games was when I started playing poker. I played 50¢-$1 limit hold’em. I ended up making it all the way to $30-$60 limit, and switched to sit-and-gos. My first no-limit [hold’em] cash experience was $1-$2 online, because I heard that you could play a lot of games at a time, just play straightforwardly, and grind out some money. I did that for a while, and eventually moved up to $3-$6 and $5-$10. If there weren’t enough games running, I’d load up some $2-$4 so that I could play 24 tables of full-ring games. This was about a year ago. It wasn’t really good for improving my poker, but it was good for grinding out money. Right now, I’m trying to become a better poker player, so I’ve been playing live cash games, mostly $10-$20 and $25-$50 no-limit hold’em at Bellagio.

KA: Wow, 24 tables. What advice would you give to players who are having trouble learning to play multiple tables?

JL: Well, every few days, I would just add another table, and focus on keeping up with the pace of every game. Eventually, I got to six, then eight, and so on. Now, 24 tables might be a bit of a stretch. You don’t want to have so many that you are timing out. What I think people who are trying to learn to play multiple cash-game tables should do is play lower stakes and a lot of tables; that way, it doesn’t really matter if they win or lose. It will help them to develop the skill to multitable [play multiple tables] at a low cost.

KA: In full-ring games, what is your general strategy with trouble hands like A-J, A-10, or K-J in early position?

JL: Online, I think you can be a bit tighter. I think you can get away with folding small pairs in early position, as well as hands like A-10 and A-J. Live, I think you need to go ahead and raise with hands like A-J and small pairs, or at least limp with them. I’ve found that you can limp a lot more live because people don’t raise you off your hand very often. If they do, they raise like 15 times the big blind or something silly, so it can become profitable to limp with big hands, as well, which I would never do online. Actually, I don’t limp with anything online. But I’ll pretty much play any hand that is decent from any position, because I’m usually very deep in live cash games, because at the limits I play, you can buy in for whatever you want. You can be much more creative, because, generally, the players are weaker, and whenever you hit a hand, you tend to get paid off more.

KA: When you say weak player, what types of things are you looking for in order to know whom you’d like to try to exploit at the table?

JL: Usually, I’ll look for a player who can’t fold top pair, top kicker. It’s the same as in the early levels of a tournament. You want to play hands that can bust top pair, top kicker pretty easily, like suited connectors and small pairs. So, against those players, you want to be playing a lot of hands that if hit, will get paid off.

KA: How do you balance playing a lot of flops against these types of players and not bleeding off a lot of money by missing?

JL: Well, you have to try to pick up some of those flops that you miss and he misses. It’s all about hand reading. Weak players will often have tells that you can pick up on. If you think your opponent missed, you can go for the pot. By the same token, if you flop something but don’t think he has anything, you might have to check to let him catch up a little. Also, don’t be calling huge raises preflop, but you can call three big blinds a decent amount of the time with hands like suited connectors, because you will hit those hands often enough. Plus, if you’re deep, like 200 big blinds or so, it’s not a big deal to put in three big blinds preflop, because you’re going to be rewarded when you hit your hand.

KA: Can you discuss the concept of way ahead or way behind, and how it applies to cash games?

JL: Way ahead or way behind is when, say, you have A-K on an A-Q-3 board. You’re way ahead or way behind because if your opponent has A-Q, A-3, or a set, you are way behind. If he has a hand like A-10 or A-J, you are way ahead. So, you usually have either a lot of equity or almost no equity. In tournaments, when you’re short-stacked, it’s usually OK to just get it in. In cash games, you’ll see a lot of players pounding the pot there with A-K, when in reality they need to be exercising pot control and not getting their entire stack in. That’s what weak players do constantly. They’ll have A-K on that board and just decide to get all of their money in, when, usually, if all the money does go in, A-K is probably way behind.

KA: So, in order to exercise pot control, are you checking behind maybe one street and going for only two streets of value?

JL: Yeah, exactly. In this case, you want to make sure that you check through at least one street, to ensure that the pot is not too large. Obviously, it varies, and it’s player-dependent, but that is generally what I do. Also, whenever you check behind on a street, your opponent will sometimes think you have nothing and decide to bluff at you, so once you check behind, you can’t really fold, because you have kind of induced your opponent to bluff, but that’s a good thing. You have a great bluff-catcher, and you may make an opponent value-bet a worse hand, like A-10 or A-J, or whatever.

KA: When you disguise your hand like this, how do you make sure that you don’t get lost in the hand and end up folding the best hand?

JL: You always have to think about what your opponent thinks you have. Whenever you check back a street, most opponents will think their top pair is the nuts, so they might start betting it pretty hard. Anytime you make a play that makes your opponent bluff at you or value-bet a worse hand, you can’t ever fold your hand. I see a lot of amateurs make that mistake; they will check behind and just give up in a spot where they definitely should be calling down. Spade Suit