Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Getting to the River is Half the Battle

Playing in a No Limit tournament is much different than playing in a cash game.

In cash games, your goal is simply to play each hand optimally, thinking only about getting maximum value for each hand, while minimizing your losses. In tournaments, though, great players avoid thin edges and play marginal hands extra carefully. By doing this, they often sacrifice a little bit of value in order to protect themselves from losing a big pot.

Have you ever been in a hand where your opponent bets the turn and you’re almost certain you have the best hand?  

Here’s the predicament: If you raise and are wrong, it can cost you all of your chips. This is the kind of scenario that separates skilled players from those that don't fully understand the nuances of tournament play.

Let's look at an example.
You raise with As-Jd and one player calls. The flop comes Js-6d-2h and your opponent checks. You bet out and he calls. The turn card is the 7d. Your opponent decides to bet.

A play like this usually means one of the following:

  • He flopped trips and was slowplaying
  • He made two pair with a hand like 6-7
  • He also has a pair of jacks but with a small kicker; he’s trying to protect his hand
  • He has a hand like 10-10 and is trying to find out where you’re at
  • He’s just bluffing.

As you can see, you’re in terrible shape against some of these hands, while others give your opponent very few outs to beat you. Regardless of which hand you think he has, this is a situation where your goal should be to get to the river as cheaply as possible.

Raising would definitely be the wrong play.

Against trips, you’d be drawing nearly dead. Against two pair, you’d need to catch an ace, jack, or a deuce to win. Against another jack with a weaker kicker, you’re ahead now, but he has outs to beat you. Against pocket tens, only two cards in the deck can beat you; if you raise here, he’ll certainly fold. Against the bluff, you’ll let him off the hook with a raise. He’ll fold instead of possibly continuing his bluff on the river.
Anytime you play a hand post-flop in a No Limit tournament, the pot is usually quite large. Do everything you can to make sure that you don't get bluffed out or make the pot any bigger than necessary.

Consider this scenario.
You raise with K-K and get one caller. The flop comes As-9c-2d. Ideally, you'd want to take this hand to the river with no betting at all. Yes, pocket kings are very strong, but that ace is a scary card; you don't want to see an opponent bet at any point. If the hand is checked down all the way to the river, consider it a victory in a very risky situation.
It’s true that aggressive play is important in tournaments. However, it's equally important to know when aggressiveness should be employed. Understand that concept and you’ll recognize when it's better to proceed with caution.

Strong players are aggressive before the flop, stealing lots of blinds and antes.  On top of that, they’ll usually have the goods when they get to post-flop play. You can become that kind of player by controlling the action to the river. Make it that far and you’re battle is almost won.



Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.


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