Is winning more at poker as simple as this article makes out? There’s only one way to find out pro Thomas Berg outlines how low stakes players can improve their game

With the 2008 WSOP finally brought to its protracted conclusion, the ‘Poker New Year’ begins. It’s the end of an old season and the launch of a fresh one, hopefully filled with the kinds of money- making plays that will get you to the final table – or at least put a few quid in your pocket.

Always aiming to improve, I turn to Thomas ‘Brystmar’ Berg, a member of the CardRunners collective, who put together a terrific series of instructional videos for low stakes no-limit Hold’em players. Having benefited from his lessons, I ask him for the four resolutions that all of us low-limit guys should make for the year ahead.

1. Play fewer hands

Check out guys like Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan, Phil Ivey and David Benyamine and you might be inclined to think that loose-aggressive is the only way to play winning poker. And it is… if you’re of durrrr’s calibre. Most of us, however, need to tuck it in a little bit.

One way to recognise you’re doing it is to use a software program like PokerTracker and see what percentage of hands you’re playing online – or, more specifically, how many hands you are voluntarily paying to play before the flop. Berg advises tight-aggressive play for all but the most skilful. ‘At maximum, you should be putting money in about 14 percent of the time in a nine-handed game, and 18 percent if you’re playing six-handed,’ he says. ‘Any more than that, and you’ll be getting yourself into tough spots where you won’t know what to do.’

2. Fold marginal hands

We all want to play lots of hands and push around opponents. But the fact of the matter is that, out of position, especially with a raise in front, seemingly powerful starting cards can lead to disasters.

‘You need to recognise the hands that, out of position, can’t be profitable – ever – and avoid them,’ says Berg. ‘The classic examples are A-J and K-J. Those are the two most overplayed hands. If you hold those cards, and there’s a raise in front of you or you’re in early position, just fold them – especially, if they’re offsuit. You’ll be dominated so often by bigger Aces and Kings that it’s better not to get involved, and that advice applies to pros as well as to amateurs.’

3. Punish short stacks

It can be tempting to limp in against a short stack while you hold mediocre cards, figuring that you don’t have much to lose. Berg looks at it a little differently – you don’t have much to win. ‘If a short-stacked player, with 25 or fewer big blinds, limps pre-flop on the button, everyone else folds, and you are in the big blind with a small pair, the proper play is to push all-in,’ says Berg. ‘By limping he’s signalled weakness, and you’re better off getting him all-in when you probably have the best of it or else inducing him to fold. However, if a small stack makes a raise ahead of you, you should fold your small pairs. You may suspect that you have the best hand – maybe you do – but there’s also a good chance that you’re dominated and you’re not getting sufficient implied odds to call with the hope of improving.’

4. Bet big hands strongly

You definitely want action when you pick up pocket Aces. But at what price? At the price of slow-playing the ultimate starting hand in order to keep other players interested? Berg says you should banish that weapon from your pre-flop arsenal, especially when playing low stakes cash games.

‘Most people don’t fold anyway,’ he points out. ‘Plus, your likelihood of winning with Aces decreases as more players enter the pot with you. The goal should be to keep in just one or two players. Additionally, when you have a very strong hand, you want to start building the pot as early in the hand as possible. Slow-playing a big starting hand pre-flop doesn’t help you to win a big pot – it just helps you to lose one.’

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