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Hell-bent on poker!

Feb 4, 2003 4:33 AM

Play tight if you want to play right and win at poker. That’s the message from world-class poker champion Phil Hellmuth.

Phil Hellmuth is a world-class poker player. He is a seven time World Series of Poker champion, and was the youngest player to win the WSOP Championship Event at the age of 24 in 1989.

Since then, Hellmuth has been a top poker tournament money winner on the Discovery Channel, E! and ESPN. He has been featured in Sports Illustrated, Time and Esquire magazines.

In a book scheduled to be released in May, Hellmuth reveals his strategy and technique for winning at Texas Hold’em, as well as Omaha, Seven Card Stud and Razz.

Although the book is not yet available, GamingToday has received an advance copy. Here are a few gems mined from the pages of Hellmuth’s book.

Tight is right. "Tight" means playing as few poker hands as possible. This is accomplished by dropping out as often as possible.

In order to do this, Hellmuth recommends playing only the Top 10 Texas Hold’em hands, and folding on all others. Here are the Top 10 dealt hands in descending order:

Ace-Ace

King-King

Queen-Queen

Ace-King

Jack-Jack

10-10

9-9

8-8

A-Q

7-7

Hellmuth says playing only strongest 10 starting hands has several benefits. First, it virtually ensures the player that he or she will be in contention.

Additionally, when you "consistently play only the top 10 hands, your opponents will begin to fear your bets and raises because they’ll see that you’re always playing something powerful," Hellmuth writes.

In general, Hellmuth suggests "playing the top 10 hands regardless of your position in the betting order or the number of bets it will cost you to get involved."

Moreover, it is important to "always raise with these hands, no matter what it costs you to get involved."

In his book, Hellmuth points out that raising is critical to "reading" the opponent, that is, how he reacts to raises, and thus determining the value of his hand.

With this foundation in mind, Hellmuth recommends players to raise and re-raise or "ram and jam" before the flop.

Which is all well and good if the flop goes well. But what if the flop is a marginal one?

"What you do is raise your opponents as if you have hit the flop perfectly, and then watch to see how they react to your raises," Hellmuth writes. "If you get the strong impression that you’re beaten, on the basis of your opponents’ reactions to your raises, then fold. But if you’re pretty sure you still have the best hand, then keep on betting and calling."

Continuing, Hellmuth suggests the same tactic on the fourth and fifth cards. "If you believe you have the best hand after the fourth card is turned up, then you need to make a bet or raise. If you’ve learned that you are beaten, now is the time to fold your hand.

"If you’ve made it all the way to the river with your top 10 hand, then it’s probably correct to call one bet on the river ... But be leery of calling two bets on the river."

Being the last player to act in a hand is a great advantage, Hellmuth writes. "By acting last, you get a better feel for the strength of your opponents’ hands."

In his book, Hellmuth offers strategies for various games and for players of various levels. In the game of No Limit Texas Hold’em, he recommends that beginners bet it all when they hold Ace-Ace, King-King, Queen-Queen or Ace-King.

"There are very few exceptions to this advice ... you should have some strong evidence that your opponent holds King-King or Ace-Ace," which would require you to fold your Queen-Queen or Ace-King.

The tactic of raising and re-raising is a critical one and Hellmuth has a wealth of suggestions on how to use it to your advantage. "When someone behind me is playing too tightly (in No Limit Hold’em), I like to raise the pot to try to steal the blinds from him, whenever it’s his big blind."

Hellmuth also believes that "Anyone who makes one weak raise can be expected to make more than one." Thus, if he can catch a player making a weak raise, he will re-raise him to force his weak hand.

"The re-raise 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 re-raise on a bluff."

Overall, Hellmuth says he likes to play "conservatively ... until I smell blood or have a good situation come up for me.

"I wait for the chips to come to me. Eventually, my opponents start to make mistakes that I can take advantage of. When I feel the time is right, I will make some moves. I might call someone with a weak hand when he’s bluffing, or I might bluff someone when I smell weakness. I may even try to trap someone if I make the nuts, but generally I bet the nuts to give someone a chance to break himself against me in a pot."