Pre-flop play

Successful businessman turned poker pro, Phil Gordon talks pre-flop play and gets all zen on us

1. His big tips
The golden pre-flop rules are: a) Play selectively aggressive. b) Play from position – avoid being forced to play catch-up. c) Avoid domination – if you are raised, don’t play second-best, bite the bullet and fold. d) Play from the blinds only with good hands – you will always be out of position. e) Don’t look at your hand until you have observed your opponents. f) Keep your courage – if half or more of your stack is committed, go right in if you are called.

2. Most important decision
Do I play these two cards? It’s by far the most important decision in every hand.

3. Don’t look at your cards…
…until it’s time to bet. Two reasons: if you don’t know what they are you can’t give smart opponents who are studying you any information about them. Anyway, you should be looking at them looking at their cards, not wasting time looking at yours.

4. Limping is for losers
If a hand is good enough to play with, it’s good enough to raise with. I always raise (for the same amount) or fold. Except in the big blind, if you don’t flop a good hand, muck it. Don’t mess about, hoping it will come good. The percentages are way against you. Just pretend to yourself that limping isn’t allowed by the rules of poker – mentally commit yourself to raise or fold. Bet three times the pot and if you find that too many players are calling, increase the pain by upping your bet. And if others limp round to you, punish them with a raise with whatever you have. Gus Hansen and Daniel Negreanu limp sometimes, but their post-flop play is so good that they make up for it. It’s doubtful that yours will be./p>

5. The advantages of raising
These are: a) It pushes your opponents out of their comfort zone. b) It limits the competition, as most will have to fold before they can make a hand. c) You take control in the expectation of winning. d) You make your opponents define their hands. e) You can often steal the blinds – it’s easy to do as they can’t tell if you have A-A or 7-2. If you can manage to steal the blinds five times in every three orbits you will finish at the final table. f) Always raising the same amount conceals your strength.

6. Don’t wait for monster hands
A-A comes, on average, once every five hours of play. A-A, K-K and A-K come only 2.1% of the time.

7. The ideal game
Just one opponent with you in control and in position. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t always achieve this.

8. Do you always play good hands?
Not always with A-10, K-J, K-Q or A-J. If there’s a raise in front of me and I suspect it could possibly be A- K, I’ll fold with any of them. K-Q is particularly vulnerable: an Ace coming on the flop is a death-knoll if your opponents put money in. Nor is your cards being suited as big a deal as a lot of players think, particularly in no-limit hold’em. X-x suited is rarely worth playing – ask yourself what your hand will look like if the flop doesn’t hit your suit, as it probably won’t. A flush flop is only a 6.4% chance. And. if you are out of position, never play dominated hands, hoping for a miracle turn or river.

9. Short-stacked play
You simply have to move all-in as soon as you can. Moving all-in is far better than calling all-in. It puts the pressure off you and on to your opponents. And when you’re potcommitted, go all-in, even if you suspect you are behind.

10. His final word
After the flop, apply the 4 & 2 Rule. Count your outs – the cards that will give you a winning hand – multiply that figure by four to get your percentage of winning on the turn or river, and by two if the turn hasn’t helped.


Who is he? His tournament winnings of $1.2m are dwarfed by the $96m he sold his technology company for during the internet stock bubble. Thus wadded, he took off round the world, seeking adventure. Once, back in San Jose, he dressed as a woman and entered a ladies-only poker tournament as a protest against single-sex events. Can be seen hosting American TV’s Celebrity Poker Showdown.

What’s he like? Tall, neat, good-looking, articulate. Famous in the US as TV presenter, millionaire and generous charity-giver.

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