From Harrington On Hold ‘Em To Chip Leader Coaching: The Evolution Of Modern Poker

When I first started playing poker in the wake of Chris Moneymaker’s spectacular 2003 Main Event win, the bible of tournament poker was Dan Harrington’s Harrington On Hold ‘Em. Harrington won the 1995 Main Event and made the final table in 2003 when Moneymaker won.

Harrington’s fundamental concept was M. M is the number of orbits you could survive before being blinded off. For instance, if you had 30,000 chips and the blinds were 1000/2000/2000, you had an M of 6. That is, you could pass through the blinds six times before being blinded off. For Harrington, if you’re M was above 10, you were in the green zone; 5-10 was the yellow zone and below 5 was the red zone. The important point is that it was a concept designed around survival. You didn’t have to do anything risky until you were in the yellow or red zones. At that time, poker was primarily a post-flop affair. Players rarely three bet without premium hands.

Needless to say, the game has changed a lot since Harrington. Most younger players today probably haven’t even heard of him – and rightfully so as his methodology has been transcended. Today, the game is much more aggressive and the preflop game has taken on increasing importance. The days of seeing flops and waiting to make big hands are over. If you’re playing against Chance Kornuth, the founder of Chip Leader Coaching, good luck seeing a lot of flops and showdowns.

Chance was on display on the Day 3 livestream of the Wynn WPT World Championship last Sunday. While things didn’t go well for him, you can still learn a lot about his strategy from the hands he played. About 20 minutes in, a player in early positioned opened with AQ and Chance 3-bet with A8dd. The original raiser folded. Half an hour later, there was a raise and a 3-bet and Chance woke up with AQ. He 4-bet and everybody folded. As Jesse Sylvia who was commentating noted: “Chance is not about that fold life.” 15 minutes after that Kristen Foxen raised and Chance 3-bet with 98dd. The cards didn’t run out in Chances favor or produce any scare cards for him to put pressure on Kristen and she won at showdown. The last hand that illustrates Chance’s style occurred when the button raised his BB with QJhh and Chance 4xed with K4off. The flop came down 522ccx. Chance c-bet and the button folded. It wasn’t Chance’s day but these hands give you the flavor of how he approaches the game. Gone are the days of trying to flop big hands and get to showdown. These are the days of preflop aggression and pushing your opponents off of marginal hands.

The point I want to make is that most recreational players have not adopted to these changes. They still play the Old School style of calling preflop and trying to smash flops. There is a place for that but if you’re preflop game is predictable – you’re only 3 and 4 betting premium hands – its easy for the modern wizards to figure out where you’re at and control the hand. They’ll probe you with smaller bets to determine if you hit the flop. Frequently you’ll just have to fold when you miss and when you don’t they’ll just shut down preventing you from getting value from your big hands.

The adjustment you must make – and it took me a long time to do so given having forged my game prior to the hyper aggressive preflop era – is to add some light 3 bets to your preflop game. Nathan Williams and Jonathan Little have developed two complementary variations of how to do this. Williams recommended 3-betting light with small pocket pairs, suited connectors and suited aces in an excellent YouTube of his I watched a couple days ago. These are hands that are frequently difficult to play after the flop and you’ll do much better if you’re in control of the hand rather than responding passively. In his book Bluffs, Little recommends adding in more marginal hands like A10off, KJoff.

A10 off is a good place to start. Frequently, when you flop an Ace, you don’t really know where you are. You could be good but you might be dominated by AQ or AJ. One way to avoid calling off three streets without knowing where you are at is to three bet the hand, which tends to slow your opponent down. Or consider 55. If you just call, you’re certain to face at least one over card on the flop and a continuation bet. You call once and see what develops but you really can’t profitably call a turn bet. However, if you raise, the tables are reversed. Now your opponent is on his heels and will have a hard time calling your continuation bet without at least middle pair or a pocket pair and will have to fold to a turn bet without top pair or better. If you miss the flop and turn, you can just check the turn and river and get to showdown a far higher percentage of the time than you would had you just called. Calling these hands is quite weak; three betting them plays much better.

When I play the $200 daily tournaments at my local casino Bay 101 in San Jose, I primarily see people playing old school poker. That is, they’re trying to see flops and make big hands. And with hands that flop well like KQ suited or 99, this is a good strategy. But frequently you’re better off raising something like 97 suited in position. Frequently your opponents will just outright fold. Even if they call, they will likely miss and you can take the pot down with a c-bet. And sometimes you’ll smash the flop and can win the hand that way as well. The game has changed and if you expect to win at the higher levels, you will have to get comfortable three betting less than premium hands.

Similar Posts