Wow, what a night. I set out to play just 100 hands because I had some other things I had to do and I walked away 100 hands later up 40BB. Believe me, it wasn’t all me. The poker gods were smiling on me tonight. I was playing two tables and almost simultaneously on both tables I had full houses that were up against flushes so I was getting bet into and re-raised, making the pots fat and juicy. On one table I was dealt QQ and the very next hand JJ. All in all, not a bad night.

Tonight’s hands got me thinking about my overall trend. In my experience, the 5 – 7 BB pots are just to keep you even with the blinds and the occasional venture into the pot to see a flop that totally misses you. Most of my money in limit Hold ‘Em poker seems to come from the monster hands. They don’t necessarily need to be the monster pre-flop but if you’re holding ATs and the flop gives you a four flush draw with aces and kings on the board, you can count on 15BB or better if you hit the flush. In fact, you’re praying for someone to make top pair or even trips because there’s no way they’re laying down that hand.

I know that sounds obvious but when you think about it like that it really keeps you honest in terms of what hands you’re willing to play. The pots get big because you know you have the nuts and can bet and raise and re-raise without hesitation. Let’s say you have 8d and 9d and the flop comes Kd Td 2d. You can’t play that hand too aggressively. There are too many other hands that can beat you and another suited card puts a lot more hands into play that might beat you. The worst part is that at the lower limits someone with T9o might even raise with that hand and put you into total defensive mode just check-calling all the way to the river. In fact, that’s what makes low/micro limit poker so interesting. Your opponents will play any two cards and they will play middle pair as aggressively as they would play the nut flush. I think that’s what sets a lot of players on tilt. Showdown comes and the guy flips up Jd 3d and you’re cursing at the monitor because that guy should have never even called a pre-flop raise cold with J3s.

The common wisdom is that at a loose table you can play more loosely but I tend to think that the looser the table the more tightly I want to play. Against a table of opponents who will play any two cards I don’t want to go in unless I have a chance of making a monster hand. Anything less and you’re far too likely to play the hand passively, which robs you of several BB. I think some of that relates back to a previous post I made about not wanting to even be tempted into a hand by a free play on the BB with a mediocre hand. Even if you win the payoff is likely to be very low since you don’t have the balls to bet it aggressively.

That brings me to another reality about poker; losing streaks and losing sessions are mostly defined by your inability to land the monster hands. It’s very rare when the cards go so badly against you that you can’t win a single hand. The most likely reason for a loss, if you really examine it, is the lack of big wins. Assuming you don’t chase too many hands where you don’t have the pot odds most big losses come in the form of a series of small losses. You win a pot for 5BB but then over the next several hands you chase a straight for 2BB more than you should have, and then you call a raise cold pre-flop with QJo and get sucked out for another 3 BB. Net-net you’re down 1BB even though it didn’t feel that painful on a case by case basis. Extrapolate that over an entire session and the bottom line is that unless you score some monster pots, you’re going to end up a loser that session. The minor 5 – 7 BB wins are only going to keep you even. At higher limit games I’m sure you have to mix things up a little more to keep people guessing but at the lower limits they’re only playing their hand anyway. They don’t respect a check-raise so how can you use all of those tools in your arsenal? You can’t!

In the end your winning and losing is defined in terms of dollars not how many pots you took down. I think the best strategy is to get away from low expectation hands and focus on those rare monsters that have the opportunity put you deep into the black.