Learning from the Pros
2006 Jason Kirk  

One of the nicest things about covering no-limit hold'em tournaments is that you get to see the full spectrum of styles that make up a tournament field. Most players know the truism that there's no one style of poker that is guaranteed to win, and there's nowhere else that you'll find a better representation of that statement than at a $10,000 buy-in event on the tournament trail. Tight players, loose players, hyper-aggressive players, trapping players - players who can be labeled in all these ways routinely make the money in these big-money events. No matter what your style, there's a lot to be learned from the players who make the money in the world's richest tournaments.

For the tight and passive player, the players with the most to teach are those who practice a loose-aggressive style . There are a lot of these players in big tournament fields today, and most of the time they're young males who aim to build a stack quickly or go to the next tournament. Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi is one example of a player who uses this style, which involves raising with a lot of marginal (or downright poor hands) and out-playing any opponents after the flop. Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Gavin Smith, Andy Black, and John Juanda are other good examples of the loose-aggressive style. Studying the way any of these pros play should help a scared player become more confident. There's a lot of opponent-reading that goes into this style so beginners often find it difficult , but experimenting with it can sometimes lead to flashes of inspiration to improve your own game.

For the passive player who finds himself involved in every pot, the tight-aggressive players are the ones to pay closest attention to. Not only do they show the virtues of avoiding involvement with less-than-stellar hands, but they also demonstrate how being aggressive once involved in a pot can build a big stack even without playing many hands. This style was once upon a time the textbook approach to tournament poker, but has begun to fall by the wayside as more younger (and particularly online) players employ a looser approach to the game. Still, there are successful examples of the style out there - players such as Dan Harrington and TJ Cloutier have numerous titles to their names and tend to play a tight, aggressive game. It may not be the most exciting style of play, but the math of poker is definitely on the side of the player who starts with the best hand and that's hard to ignore.

If you've noticed something that both of these groups of players have in common, it's that they're both labeled as "aggressive." In general, poker awards aggression and that's certainly true in tournaments as much as it is in cash games. However, the brand of aggression exercised by the top players is much different from the blind-rage sort of raising you see from newcomers. Even many of the loosest players won't go crazy raising with a poor hand from early position - more often than not they wait until they're in a spot where they can take advantage of acting last before they go too far. Also, good players know when to take the more passive approach and simply call with the intention of letting a good (but not great) hand go if the flop either fails to improve their hand or appears too dangerous to proceed given the read they have on their opponents.

One final note: the final tables broadcasted on television are rarely good learning tools for a new player. They're often short-handed and edited for time, meaning that the final product rarely resembles a true game of poker. The best way to get a feel for how the pros play is to watch them live - either by attending in person or winning a satellite to play against them in person. One way or another, you're guaranteed to learn a lot - even if one option is much more appealing than the other.

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