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Running Hot

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Jan 22, 2014

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I have had some high highs and low lows in my poker career, but currently, I feel as if I am at the absolute top of my game. Since the 2013 WSOP, which was the best of my life, I have cashed in 11 out of the 31 live tournaments I have played. This includes two wins, cashing for around $250,000. I have also taken third in the Sunday $500 tournament on PokerStars, which typically gets around 1,000 players, twice, bringing in around $30,000 each time. Despite this recent success, I am still a touch below the highest ever peak of my net worth. Poker tournaments are weird in that you are rarely at your highest ever net worth because you frequently lose for a long time then suddenly win a pile of money. So, am I running hot? Have I suddenly remembered how to play poker? Was I bad at poker prior to the most recent WSOP? What has been the reason for my recent success?

It should be perfectly clear that I have been running hot. When you win tournaments, you tend to have to get lucky in numerous ways. Your A-A has to hold up. You have to win your flips. You have to get reasonable table draws. The ways luck applies go on and on. Have I been luckier in the last six months than in the six months prior? Absolutely, and that is nothing to be ashamed about.

Before the WSOP, I feel as if I was simply playing my cards in a slightly more aggressive and creative way than my opponents. While playing in this manner will win money if you are an excellent poker player, the way you win the most money possible is by getting well out of line and trying to exploit your opponents as much as possible. I think I forgot this concept, which certainly hurt my win rate. I was somehow lulled into showing up, looking at my cards, playing them decently well, and then going home.

I recently fell in love with “Zoom” poker on PokerStars and I am confident that figuring out how to win at it has made me a significantly better poker player. When I first started playing, I was well out of my league. For those who don’t know, $2-$5 no limit hold’em is currently the largest game that runs on a regular basis, but it is infested with a large number of players who crush much larger standard games. By observing how the best players play in these games, I have come to understand what the best players in the world do to put other good players in terrible situations. Seeing how most of my opponents in tournaments are well versed at poker, learning these skills has been invaluable. I have learned the lines people frequently take with the nuts, allowing me to fold normally strong hands and I have also learned to pick off huge bluffs with a high degree of accuracy. I have also learned how to force my opponents off most of their non-nut range in most situations, which is almost all of the time.

Despite this, every day I play poker, I find myself making errors when I review my notes at the end of the day. Before the WSOP, I felt like I wasn’t making many mistakes at all. I now see that simply was not true. If I was not making very many mistakes it was because I was playing too standard. Playing standard is not how you win the most money possible.

If you want to get good at poker and can afford the “tuition,” I strongly suggest you find a tough game and learn to beat it. Assuming you cannot instantly beat the game, which you probably will not be able to, you should strive to figure out why you are losing and why the biggest winners are winning. Take this knowledge and actively apply it. Also, figure out what you can do to put the biggest winners in terrible situations. If you put excellent players in terrible spots, they will almost certainly mess up from time to time. If you allow them to only play standard, straightforward spots they have seen a million times, they will play perfectly. So, practice getting out of line and work hard at improving your game so you can learn to crush whatever game you desire. ♠

Jonathan Little, 2-time World Poker Tour champion has won more than $6 million in tournaments since 2006. He is sponsored by 3bet.com, Instapoker and BlueSharkOptics and teaches poker at FloatTheTurn.com and www.JonathanLittleSecrets.com. Follow him on Twitter @ JonathanLittle.