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Gavin Smith Poker Strategy Lessons and Tips
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Tips From The Pros
Gavin Smith
Lesson: 46
Small-Pot Poker
January 30, 2006

My name is Gavin Smith and I play poker online at Full Tilt Poker. To learn
more about my poker career, keep reading.

I have been playing poker since 1994, when I discovered the roving charity
casinos in the Toronto area. I turned pro in 1998. That year, I played in my
first poker tournaments during the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods and made
two final tables.

My first major tournament win came in the 1999 World Poker Finals, when I
won a No-Limit Hold 'em tournament. The next year at Foxwoods, I won a
Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo 8 or Better tournament. Since then, I've made a
dozen more final tables.

Without question, 2005 has been my best year. At the Mirage Poker
Showdown, I won two tournaments, taking home more than $155,000 in the
$2,000 No-Limit Hold 'em event and more than $1.1 Million in the $10,000
No-Limit Hold 'em WPT event.

Additionally, I cashed in four Ultimate Poker Challenge tournaments and four
World Series of Poker tournaments. Most recently, I finished third at the
Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship, where I collected more
than $327,000.

When I'm not playing poker, I like to play golf, roller blade, and play pool with
my friends.

You'll be seeing a lot of me on next year's World Poker Tour broadcasts. So
far in the 2005-2006 schedule, I've made three final tables. I won the Mirage
event, finished third at the Bellagio and fourth in Tunica. When you see a
broadcast that features my play, you may be left scratching your head,
asking, "Why the heck is that guy playing those cards?"

There's no question that I do play an unconventional game. But, there is a
method to my madness.

I play a style that's usually referred to as "small-pot poker." Using this
approach, I'm looking to pick up a lot of small pots by applying a constant
level of pressure to my opponents. Pre-flop, I raise frequently, especially in
position. My raises are small, usually around two-and-a-half times the big
blind, as opposed to the customary three or four times the big blind. I'll raise
with a huge variety of hands - everything from big pocket pairs to "junk"
hands, like 6d-4d, or 5c-8c.

Usually, I'll miss the flop when I raise with junk. In fact, two-thirds of the
time, I won't make as much as a pair. But here's the thing: If someone called
my pre-flop raise, he's also going to miss the flop most of the time. When we
both miss, I have a distinct advantage. As the pre-flop aggressor, I have
control of the hand. Most of the time (as much as 90 percent of the time), I'll
follow up my pre-flop aggression by betting roughly half to two-thirds of the
pot on the flop. A good percentage of the time, this bet will be enough to
take down the small pot.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that you're playing in the big blind and
you hold Ks-Qs. I raise in late position to two-and-a-half. K-Q suited is a
pretty decent hand against someone like me, who has been raising
constantly. Still, it's not necessarily a hand you want to risk your whole
tournament on. So you call.

When you opt to just call, I put you in a position where you really need to hit
the flop. If the flop is all rags, you need to be worried that I made two-pair
with 4-7. Or, if there's an Ace on the flop, you need to be concerned, since I
could be holding a real hand. Most of the time, you'll end up surrendering the
hand to my bet on the flop.

If you do hit a hand - say the flop comes K-Q-4 - that's fine. With my playing
style, I'm accustomed to getting check-raised a lot. But that's okay, too. I
didn't risk a whole lot with my bets, so I can just surrender the hand and look
for better spots down the line.

There are a couple of other advantages that come with playing this style.
One is that no one ever puts me on a big hand pre-flop. So, when I do pick
up pocket Aces or Kings, my hand is well disguised. My opponents are willing
to call with marginal hands (like the aforementioned K-Q) and maybe get
themselves in a lot of trouble. If someone does flop top pair when I hold an
overpair, it's likely I'm going to get a big portion of his stack.

The other great benefit comes when I hold junk and hit the flop hard. When I
raise with 5-7 and flop a straight, an opponent holding pocket Jacks is going
to be in a lot of trouble.

Some of the best tournament players around - Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen
and Phil Hellmuth among them - employ some version of the small pot
approach. Is it the right method for you? That's something you'll have to find
out for yourself.

I do, however, caution beginners from trying this style as it requires a lot of
difficult decisions (what do you do with top-pair bad-kicker on an 8-high flop,
for example). These are answers that sometimes come easier to more
experienced players who have developed a feel for the game.

Still, you can give small-pot poker a shot. Register for a low buy-in
tournament online and mix up your game. If the tournament doesn't go so
well, you'll only be out a small buy-in.

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