Small Ball vs Long Ball Poker

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Have you ever noticed the difference between small ball and long ball poker players? Did you ever wonder how a player took a draw for their entire stack on the first hand of the poker tournament? If so, then you have witnessed a player that plays the long ball high risk style of poker. This is the kind of player that takes maximum risk at all times in hopes of building a monster chip stack early. A small ball player is the exact opposite and will meticulously win pot after pot while building their stack of chips one pot at a time until reaching the final table. Both styles of play are viable. It all comes down to what style works best for your poker game.

Small Ball

As I indicated earlier small ball is a style of play that encourages measured risk and slowly building your chip stack by out playing your opponents after the flop. Poker players like Dan Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth both love this style of play and it clearly has served them well. There really is no down side to playing small ball poker. Actually the more skilled poker players prefer small ball poker because it allows them to out play their opponents after the flop. Small ball allows you to make moves like check calling when your opponent is weak and then raising on the turn or river to take the pot away. Deep stacks poker tournaments tend to lend themselves to small ball poker tournaments. The fact of the matter is that the more starting chips you have in relation to the blinds the more you will need to be able to play in space and that means playing small ball poker. Typically slow structured poker tournaments lend themselves to this style of play. That means that the blinds are going to go up every 30 minutes at the very least and you will have plenty of chips to start relative to the blinds. These kinds of poker tournaments allow you to play many hands and generally the more skilled players will make their way to the final table.

Long Ball

Long ball poker is a high risk style of play that tends to lend itself to fast structured poker tournaments where the levels are less than 20 minutes and the chip stacks are less than 100x’s the big blind to start with. In order to compete successfully in any poker tournament you must accumulate chips. However, the structure will dictate how fast or slow you must play the tournament and accumulate chips. For some poker players these are ideal circumstances as they tend to be impatient and unable to balance between long and small ball poker. You simply cannot play one style of play all the time. One thing about long ball poker player that I have noticed is that they are extremely volatile. If they can get their hands on a lot of chips they can make things miserable for the entire table by raising and re-raising pots and putting a lot of pressure on people. Conversely they are easily trapped because they tend to over value hands like Ace King in spots that are easier to navigate with a flat call or re-raise to find out where they are at. They will also chase flush draws and outside straight draws for their entire stack if the situation warrants it and this can happen at any point in the poker tournament.

It really does not matter what style of play you choose. Anyone can be successful with any style of play in poker and poker strategy is not confined to one particular way of playing the game. Ultimately you have to find the style of play that fits your personality best and execute it with strong fundamentals and you will be well on your way to being a successful tournament poker player.

Curtis Mayfield III

Short Stack Poker Tournament Tips

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During most poker tournaments you are going to find yourself short on chips from time to time. That is not to say that you will not gain some traction and get back into the mix but it does happen. If you play tournament poker you are going to be short stacked no matter how well you play. True, some of us are short stacked a lot less times than others but it does happen. There are many poker players that are tremendous short stacked players and understand how to use the situation to their advantage. On the other hand there are players that have no understanding of how to play a short stack and might as well just give away the rest of their chips instead. We are going to examine short stack play and how to survive.

Situational Awareness
Obviously when you are short stacked you need to be extremely sensitive to not only your own situation but also that of other players at the table. If I am short I do not want to pick on another player that is in the same desperate situation as I am in. Why? The reason is because he is more likely to call than someone that has an average stack. Remember, just because you are short stacked does not mean that you don’t pose a danger to other players at your table as long as you do not allow your chips to dwindle down to nothing. Usually 10x’s the BB is as small a short stack as you want to get before getting all your chips in. This means you can still sting most of the players that are at your table enough to make them think before getting involved in a pot with you.

Even if you pick up the blinds you are increasing your stack by another 10% and allowed another orbit to pick up a big hand and double up. You need to stay away from calling raises or getting involved with speculative hands like flush draws or small pairs unless you are in the blinds or on the button and confident you will not see a raise behind you. But remember that there is no such thing as always. You must have a good feel for your table and how your opponents perceive your game in order to carry this out. Small raises and getting involved in hands out of position as a short stack do you absolutely no good. The reason is that you are likely to be put all-in after the flop hit so you need to be prepared for that no matter what hits the board. The same thing is possible pre-flop when you see a raise in front of you. It’s very likely that player wants you to get all your chips in the middle and is trapping.

Hand Ranges

Too many times I see short stacked players getting involved with minimum raises and then folding. The rule of thumb when you are short stacked is that you are going to get the rest of your chips in the middle after the flop at the very least. You should never call a minimum raise or flat call a limper when short stacked and then fold your hand. The bottom line is that you do not have enough chips to call and then fold. It’s true that we would love to get our chips in the middle with a premium pair before the blinds come around again. However, that is not always an option and we need to open up our range of hands considerably when short stacked. Just about any pocket pair from [5][5] or higher will be enough to justify getting your chips in the middle even with a raiser in front of you. You also want to consider hands like [Js]Ts], {Q][T], [K][T], [Ks][9s], [J][T], [Q][9], [A][5]-[A][9],[7][6], [Js][9s]. None of these hands are premium hands but they do allow you outs with straight draws and flush draws alike.

The objective of the short stack is very simple, you are on a mission to either double your stack or you are going home. So, even though your hand range must expand considerably you also can take advantage of those that are afraid to get involved and target them when you are not picking up cards so you can steal their blinds. Every time you are able to get away with stealing the blinds is another opportunity for you to pick up a real hand and double-up. It is another opportunity for survival. Anything can happen after you gain a little traction through a double up. I have seen players go on to make many final tables after starting off extremely slow. So give yourself the best shot you can and play your short stack aggressively and see what happens.

Short stacking in no-limit hold’em

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Playing a short stack is something that has become more and more in vogue in no-limit Texas Hold’em in recent years. The expert short stack player usually buys in for 20% of the table maximum and then looks to shove all in either pre-flop or on the flop with a good hand. It is a good strategy to adopt if you are an inexperienced player as there are many advantages to it. Firstly you are only buying in for 20% of the maximum which would be $20 in a NL100 game.

This means that your deep staked opponents would not have the ability to outplay you down the streets. So you are essentially totally offsetting their skill advantage over you. Usually skilled short stack players are not big winners in the game although the ease of the strategy means that you can play an awful lot of tables this way and you can never make a huge mistake. Also it does not take any skill to play a short stack as you are basically sitting and waiting for strong hands and simply pushing them for the maximum that you have in your stack.

Let us look at how this works in practice. You have A-Qs and it has been folded around to the button that opens for $3.50 in a NL100 game. The small blind folds and you have $17 after going through the blinds twice. There is $5 in the pot and you shove all in for your remaining $17. If you win the pot then your stack rises to $22 which is more than the $20 that you started with. This gives you some more time to go looking for that double up that you are searching for.

But here is where short stacking can really pay off because you are often facing deep stacks. The opener may have a huge stack of say $150 and so calling the extra $12 is not going to faze him. There is $22 in the pot and it only costs him $12 to call and they will often call with dominated hands like A-J and A-10 etc. So you often get loose calls when players look you up. But here is the real kicker because you could be sitting on a table full of professionals and world class players and they could never outplay you.

Many people are very critical of players who short stack and it is certainly true that they are indeed a hindrance. But they do provide a tremendous amount of liquidity to the game as players are short stacking for one simple reason, because they want to. So by making these players buy in for more money or driving them from the game then you run the risk of driving these players away from poker for good. If I have short stackers to my left then I will be careful with regards to how much I raise as if they come over the top with a raise then I know that they have a tiny range of hands. Likewise if a short stacker limps in, if they are a skilled short stack player then I will automatically suspect a limp re-raise here.

Taking the aggressive route in no-limit Texas Hold’em

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These days in no-limit Texas Hold’ em then if you have to choose between a passive route and an aggressive one then the aggressive route is usually best. Let us look at an example here to show what I mean. It has been limped by an early position player and it has then been folded around to you on the button with 5-5 and now you have to decide what to do. Do you limp or do you fold because of the poor implied odds? Well if you want to play the hand then with only one opponent in the pot why not take the aggressive route and raise?

This strives to take the initiative in the hand and often when you limp then a player behind you may try and take the initiative by raising and so your play is punished to a certain extent and so are your implied odds. I like raising over limping if I do decide to play the hand. Aggression is always rewarded in poker even though it may not be always rewarded in each individual hand that you play. Let us look at another situation and here we are playing in a six handed game.

It has been folded around to the hijack who open raises in a NL200 game and you have A-J on the button. Folding is definitely wrong and in stronger games then calling the raise can often be punished by a re-raise from one of the blinds. If you re-raise and that raise gets called by the original raiser then you know that they are not messing about as not only have they raised but they have also called the re-raise. Players with aces and kings will often just call the re-raise looking to trap over zealous aggressive players who are abusing their position.

So an opening raise followed by the calling of a re-raise is a powerful betting line and especially if the hand is heads up! Raising with the A-J also allows you to clarify where you stand in relation to other hands that are on the table. You ideally want to know if you are against AK or AQ. If you merely call the raise and the flop comes A-9-5 rainbow and you are out kicked against someone who has A-Q then you are going to lose a lot of chips here. You will expect your opponent to fire a c-bet regardless and so you cannot fold on the flop.

Likewise on the turn because most players will fire a second barrel on the turn if their flop bet gets called on a bluff. So this leaves the A-J hand in a difficult money losing situation. You cannot fold on the flop as that is too weak and probably would be too weak on the turn as well. So taking the aggressive route can often save you a lot of money in no-limit Texas hold’em by forcing other players to fold and also helping you to find out exactly where you are.

Playing Short Handed Poker

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Playing Short handed

A popular variation of the typical 9 or 10 handed ring games, is the short handed 5 or 6 player games which can be found on nearly every site that offers online poker. Many players prefer the faster speed and increased amount of decision making that this type of game requires. It is important to take a look at the differences between short-handed and full tables.

Why Loosen up?
When playing short-handed it is a necessity to win more pots than one would normally at a full table. The blinds come around twice as often, and as such a player can’t just sit back and wait for the premium hands like they could at a full table. Seeing half as many free hands each round requires every player to begin playing less than optimum hands otherwise they will find themselves being blinded right out of the game.

Changes in hand evaluation

The main changes in starting hand evaluation when moving from a full to a short-handed table are in regards to high cards, and drawing hands. Drawing hands (like medium or small suited connectors) go way down in value since their will rarely be enough players in the pot to justify playing this type of drawing hand, and there won’t even be pot odds to pursue the draw even if there is a flop that hits the hand. Conversely, high cards even Ax or Kx are often playable if nobody else has entered the pot yet. Hands which would be trouble hands at a full table like KJ, or QT can be raising hands at a short-handed game. Quite often both players will miss the flop completely, so being the aggressor with high cards will often allow one to steal the pot if their opponent misses as well.

Winning small pots

The easiest way to win more pots to off-set the increased number of blinds that must be paid, is to win small pots, whether stealing the blinds, or betting out on the flop hoping the opponent missed as well. To improve the chances of successfully stealing blinds or winning pots early, it is important to show power in the opening round of betting. If one has a good position and feel they have the best hand; that player must not hesitate to raise. While in most cases not everyone will fold (although if they do then the blinds are immediately won by the raiser), the pre-flop raiser will often have the impetuous to continue betting on the flop, and pick up the pot if nobody else has hit.

The Art of Squeezing in Poker

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There are many different types of play in poker and they have all sorts of exotic names. We have the steal-raise, pick up, donk betting, the float play, whipsaw and the list goes on. But there is one particular play that I would like to talk about in this article and it is the squeeze play. This particular tactic can be executed in cash games as well as tournaments and it is designed to focus on the situation and not on your actual hand.

Let us look at an example from a Texas Hold em poker tournament to see a squeeze play in action. Player A raises to 600 with the blinds at 100-200! They have a stack of 24,000 in chips compared to your 22,000. You have been watching this player and they have been raising on a very high percentage of their hands so you know that they must be raising light, crucially they have also been backing down to aggression as well so you know that they are capable of folding a hand.

This player open raises from middle position and their raise gets called by the player in the cut-off seat who has a stack of 17,000. The action is now on you and you look down to see absolute junk with the Jc-8h on the button. Now this hand isn’t total junk of course as it does have some potential but against a raise and a call then folding is a solid play here.

But looking more closely at the situation reveals that you have another option open to you and that is to raise. Now before you think that I have taken leave of my senses here, a closer look at the situation will reveal a far different picture. We already know that the raiser is a loose aggressive player who is capable of folding so this now presents us with a rather interesting dynamic.

The original raiser has a stack of 23,400 remaining so they are not committed to the hand in any way shape of form. Also the caller has definitely implied weakness and also has a stack that will not commit him to the hand either as they have 16,400 remaining. A raise here basically takes advantage of the situation that has arisen.

We have a raiser who is likely not strong enough to call a re-raise and a caller who is almost certainly not strong enough. The remaining question mark is in what the blinds have. But amassing a big stack in tournament poker is all about playing the percentages and you cannot win tournaments without gambling. However if you can turn these gambles into calculated gambles then you can fare a lot better.

So you re-raise to 3000, both blinds fold and so do the original raiser and caller. You pick up a nice 1500 in chips and all because you spotted an opportunity to make a move. But look at another advantage to the play, your own stack before the hand started was 22,000 so even if you run into a big hand from the blinds or the original raiser then you still have a further 19,000 in chips in which to do battle with.

If your raise gets called then you can proceed accordingly as the chances that your opponent will have a real hand have now been magnified. But you now have the option to bet the flop or take a free card and see the turn.

This can allow you to win a big pot in several other ways as well as you will be connecting with a board that your opponent will not expect like with 10-9-7 or 8-8-2 for instance. So remember the “squeeze play” and add this to your arsenal of weapons for future use.

By: Carl “The Dean” Sampson

Multi-Tabling Texas Holdem

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Do you multi-table when you are online? It doesn’t matter whether you are playing a Texas Holdem poker tournament or cash game multi-tabling is as popular as ever. With so many technological advances I with the new monitors and video cards playing multiple tables is a way to potentially increase your profit margin if you are a cash game player. Tom Dwan is probably one of the most popular multi-table poker players around today. Hevad Khan was banned for multi-tabling 64 tables at once until he sent them film of him actually doing it. Initially the poker room he was playing in thought he was a bot. In any event if you play online poker then you will undoubtedly have the opportunity to play as many tables as you care to.

Why Multi-Table?

The main argument for multi-tabling is that it increases your profit margin by increasing the number of hands you see per hour. So, assuming that you are an above average poker player, the more hands you see and play correctly the better your chances of increasing your hourly profit by adding additional tables. Of course none of that changes how variance affects the game or table you are playing at that point in time. In other words there is no guarantee that you are going to rake in huge profits just because you are playing several tables at once. If you keep track of the online poker pros you will notice that they can have some very radical swings. This is particularly true in Omaha.

Another reason strikes me as a bit strange in that many poker players seem to be bored played one table. Professional poker players and amateur poker players alike have admitted to being bored when they play poker. How that is possible is beyond my understanding but perhaps it is just the makeup of some player’s personality. I tend to have the patience of Job in most any endeavor I take on. I don’t live my life at 100 miles per hour intentionally so that I can enjoy the experiences that come my way daily. However, the game of poker, particularly online poker attracts a player type that can be very impatient even when playing live poker tournaments.

Fighting off boredom is not very difficult to do when you think about it. Considering that we all must constantly profile our opponents, track showdowns, monitor betting patterns and the like there is no reason for any poker player to be bored. Online poker moves even faster and makes it easier to monitor these things. Ultimately, it all depends on what kind of makeup you have I suppose.

The Down Side

The down side to multi-tabling is the fact that most of us cannot keep track of and focused on more than 3 to 4 tables at a time. Why? Because once you have more tables open than you can see at one time on your monitor you do not have the time to watch the action at those tables. Now you are reduced to simply playing the hands you are deal. There is a caveat to this scenario and that is if you happen to be a Limit Hold’em player. Limit Hold’em tends to lend itself to multi-tabling because the betting patterns are fixed so the risk factor is minimized considerably even when you have only seconds to make you bet or fold the hand.

Another problem with multi-tabling is that you cut down your reaction time. Imagine having 20 to 30 tables opened with 60 seconds to respond to each hand. By the time you should be acting in the hand you very likely will be down to only a few seconds. That is not nearly enough time to even quickly think through the action and where you fit in.

Clearly multi-tabling can and is done successfully every single day of the week. You just need to be smart about how you go about doing it. If you want to try multi-table don’t try to fire up 10 tables at once. Start out with two or three tables and get a feel for what is comfortable for you. Some players may be OK playing 10 tables at a time while others may be more comfortable with no more than 6. Only you know when you skill level begins to deteriorate. Once this begins to happen you need to acknowledge it and cut down the number of tables you play. It seems simple but I know players that consistently lose multi-tabling but continue to do so.

Be smart and know your own limitations.

Curtis Mayfield III

Limit Holdem versus No Limit Holdem

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It has been and probably will be one of the most discussed topics in the poker world for some time to come. Usually when we think about beginning poker players we tend to think about limit holdem. That doesn’t mean that limit requires any less skill, actually reading your opponents and having good feel for the game are even more important in limit, it just means that it requires a twist on how to execute those skills successfully along with a lot of playing experience. When I first began playing poker years ago I started out playing limit. The reasoning was simple. After reading all of the books I could get my hands on and playing on simulators I figured it was the safest way not to lose a whole lot of money off the top while being able to learn the game. I also noted that the buy-ins for no limit cash games were around $200 – $300 for the low stakes $2/$1 games. Clearly I was nowhere near ready to play in even the smallest no limit games at that time.

Limit gives you an opportunity to slow the game down due to the capped betting. It also allows you to learn how to play solid fundamental poker while not being under the pressure of losing your entire buy-in at the drop of a card. That in-and-of-itself provides many new poker players with a comfort level that is just not there for the novice Texas Holdem poker player. Limit in many ways can appear as if it is a drawing game and you will typically see many players in the pot whereas a No Limit game will usually see a pre-flop raise to push out players with mediocre hands. Also, limit is a game that always gives you odds to whatever draw you may have simply because there is so much money in the pot.

Strategically Limit Holdem is much more competitive at the higher stakes where skill level comes more into play. For instance: At a $2/$4 table with a full ring and 5 players in the pot there is almost no way that a player with the nut flush draw is going to fold when he is getting more than 5 to 1 on his draw. Now consider that a raise was made post flop. It would be a very poor choice not to put $4 dollars into the pot for a shot at $20 and possibly more by the River.

On the down side of the limit game is the fact that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to protect your premium hands. If you don’t flop or turn a set and someone is constantly raising with no flush or raise on the board in a 4 or 5 way pot it is probably time to muck that premium hand. This is where many players don’t seem to get it. You cannot hold on to bad hands all the way to the River in any form of poker and expect to make a profit over the long term. You have to be capable of folding as all good player do when they have confirmed they are beat.

As with time and a little talent you find that you will develop a feel for the game and instinctively you should know when you are beat. On the other hand you should also know when you are ahead and be capable of utilizing those same instincts to extract maximum value in the hands you are involved in.

No Limit Holdem is still the king of all forms of poker despite the current Omaha craze that is taking the world by storm. However, no limit also requires even more skill and intuition to play well and be profitable over the long run. Solid fundamental play is a given in a good no limit player. What seperates the no limit players is the moves that can be made and the betting. You can use your chips to your advantage to move players off of hands and out of pots. You cannot do that playing limit holdem. If you are in a poker tournament you always have the threat of the blinds and being busted out of the tournament hanging in the balance as you make your decisions from hand to hand. More than any other form of poker chips means power in no limit holdem. Other players try to avoid the big stacks when playing no limit tournaments. As far as the poker strategy goes you have access to an entire arsenal of moves just as the limit players do. The difference is that there is no limit on what you can put in the pot. You can put your opponent(s) to the test at any point in time in a hand before, during or after the flop.

I am not suggesting that either form of poker is better than the other. Yes, I do believe no limit is the king of poker due to its popularity but all forms are valid and require study, experience and a lot of practice. There are lessons to be learned in both limit and no limit. So don’t be scared to sit down at the poker table with a few friends and give it a shot. You might be surprised.

Curtis Mayfield III

Playing Pocket Pairs in Texas Holdem Poker

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Playing Pocket Pairs

After playing for years, the masters of Texas Hold’em, have perfected their skills at bluffing, strategy, slow-playing and reading other players. But the one thing it doesn’t take an expert to know is that the pocket cards in Hold’em hold all the power.

This is the time of the game where the most important decisions are made. Position, whether the game is loose or tight, the skill level of the other players, and the number of players who have already called and must be taken into account in deciding if one should play their hand or pass.

Because five of the seven cards dealt in Hold’em are community cards, the game is about the cards in the hole, not about chasing pairs. The reason? If one improves, their opponents usually will too. No matter how many years you’ve put in at the tables, if your opponents are consistently starting with better cards, they will often come out on top.

If you draw pocket pairs, where odds run 16-1, consider yourself lucky, and in good position to grab the pot. But it still takes knowing how to play them correctly, whether you’re sitting with a pair or deuces or a monster pair of aces.

High Pairs

High pairs consist of pocket Jacks or better. They should be played aggressively by raising preflop if no one has raised yet, or reraising if someone has. But remember that depending on how the community cards fall, a high pair hand can lose value quickly. If an overcard falls, tread carefully. If the flop has three of a suit or cards close enough in sequence, caution should also be exercised. Otherwise, bet it up if for nothing else than to gauge the strength of your opponents’ hands. But, always be cautious of playing a strong second best hand. As discussed, the big pair is a good hand, but it’s not a great hand.

Low Pairs
It is important to understand the value of small pocket pairs. These hands fall under the category of playing well with very few (heads-up) or several (6 or more) other players. When playing a small pair, the ultimate goal is to flop three-of-a-kind. Without a set on the flop, it is time to start thinking of an exit strategy. The idea is to think economy class when getting to the flop, make sure it is as cheaply as possible. The cost to see the flop with a small pair should be no more than a single blind bet. As with any hand, position makes a difference on how to play a low pair as well. Since they’re not strong raise material, early position hurts. Middle is OK in a loose game and, a raise from late position is good if no one else has entered the pot.

The most important advice when playing pocket pairs? “Never marry small pocket pairs.” This means one must be ready to fold if they do not make a set on the flop.

Texas Holdem preflop hand rankings

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Texas Hold’em Pre-Flop Ranking of Hands

Premium Hands
The very best of the best starting hands. It’s viable to raise or re-raise these hands in any position.
• AA
• KK
• AKs (the s refers to both cards of the hand being the same suit, which suit doesn’t matter for this discussion)
• QQ

• JJ

Good Hands
These hands are often worth a raise if you’re the first one to enter the pot. With some of them, it will often be right to just call or fold with them if someone raised in front of you.
• AK,
• AQs, AJs, ATs
• AQ, AJ
• KQs KJs, QJs, JTs
• TT, 99

• AT, KQ
• KTs, QTs

Solid Hands
These hands should generally be limped pre-flop, and should usually be folded to a raise
• 88, 77
• J9s, T9s
• 98s, 87s
• Ace with any other card of the same suit as your Ace

• KJ, QJ, JT

Decent Hands
These hands that are best played only in late position, usually only if there are several limpers in front of you.
• Low Pairs (66 or lower)
• Suited Connectors like 76s, 65s, 54s (don’t usually play anything lower like 32s)
• KT, QT
• K9s, J8s

Hands not mentioned are generally trash hands and should only be played in situations where you have a big advantage over your opponent. For example, when you’re trying to steal the blinds, or are up against a very weak player.

While narrowing your starting hand selection is important, doing so is just the tip of the iceberg. After choosing which hands to play, you next have to know how to play these hands, before the flop, on the flop, and further on into the hands. You have to decide whether the best play is to call, bet, raise, or fold at each stage of the hand. As you progress and learn how each of these options works best, your chance of winning the hand increases tremendously.

After you have strengthened your fundamentals through each stage of the hand, you should be looking for other ways to win hands. This could include things such as bluffing, reading your opponents, and using your table position to your advantage. Adding these tools to your arsenal will greatly improve your chances of winning hands and, eventually, the size of your bankroll.

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