The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide

Tournament Edition


By Andy Bloch

By Richard Brodie

By Chris Ferguson

By Ted Forrest

By Rafe Furst

By Phil Gordon

By David Grey

By Howard Lederer

By Mike Matusow

By Huckleberry Seed

By Gavin Smith

Edited by Michael Craig

By Keith Sexton

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 1, 2007. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The professionals of Full Tilt Poker include the best and most famous poker players in the world. Their accomplishments are unparalleled, with countless World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour championships to their names and well in excess of $100 million in winnings in private games. Now, this group of poker legends has banded together to create The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide, which will stand as an instant classic of the genre and is sure to become the industry standard.



The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time


Player Introduction: The Passion to Be the Best

by Phil Gordon

What does it take to be a champion at poker? What are the players at the final table of the World Series of Poker doing that is so special? How can I take my game to the next level? What are the fundamentals of winning online and in live games, in tournaments and cash games? If you're like me, these are the questions you ask yourself over and over in an effort to improve and gain insight into the fascinating game of poker.

I am very fortunate. I've been able to use my early success at the tables to infiltrate a unique fraternity of kindred souls—my fellow professional poker players. Very often, when we're standing around before a tournament (or, more commonly, drinking a beer or two after we've busted out), I get a chance to ask questions and learn from the best players in the game. Less desirably, I very often get firsthand lessons as pros like Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, and Ted Forrest stack my chips and count my cash.

I take every single opportunity to learn from these players. My combined experiences at and away from the table with the folks who wrote this book are my driving influence to improve, my guiding influences in my game, and my shaping influences for my ideas. In short, without their help, insight, and frequent theft of my blinds and bets, I wouldn't be the player I am today. In fact, I might not be a professional poker player at all.

See, if you're like me, you don't want to be good at poker—you want to be truly great. I want my name uttered in the same sentence with Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Howard Lederer, and Erik Seidel. I want to be the greatest player in the world. And, perhaps egotistically, I think with continued hard work, practice, and tests, I can get there. I know it won't happen overnight, and I know that it won't happen easily. But that's okay. Just the thought that it could happen is all I need to continue working hard at the game.

The players who wrote this book, me included, want to help you become a better poker player. We want you to experience the same joy that we do when we make a great play, take a great read, cash a million-dollar check, and slide that bracelet onto the wrist.

Some players complain about the introduction of books that help other players improve. "Hey, why do you want to educate the fish? The games will be much tougher if you keep this up!" To those critics, I say, "Bring it on! I want tougher competition. I want my opponents to play better so that I have to play better. I want them to push me. I want them to force me to take my game to the next level." There is no Nicklaus without Palmer. There is no Jordan without Barkley. To be the best we can be, we need competition—fierce, tough, unwavering competition.

The strategies and plays you'll find in this book will absolutely help your game. There is no doubt in my mind about that. But it's up to you how aggressively you pursue improvement. It's up to you how patient you'll be with your improvement. It's up to you how courageous you'll be in trying out these techniques. It's up to you how resilient you'll be when you face the inevitable setbacks.

Aggression. Patience. Courage. Resiliency. These are the qualities of a champion poker player. These qualities and an intense desire to improve are why you see the authors of this book winning on television and cashing the million-dollar checks. Will you join us at the final table, push us, and give us a battle for the bracelet? We sincerely hope so.

See you at the final table.


Editor's Introduction: The Role of Books in Poker

by Michael Craig

A Book Made Me Want to Play Poker

I didn't start playing poker until I was thirty-two years old, and I started playing because of a book. My dad loaned me his copy of A. Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town. I had never been interested in playing poker, but I became fascinated by the stories of the lives and games of the competitors at the 1981 World Series of Poker. (I'm pretty sure I still have that copy; sorry, Dad.)

Not long after, almost by accident, I picked up and read Anthony Holden's Big Deal. Having read just one poker narrative, I approached this book warily and, like a gambler, asked myself, What are the odds this is going to be as good as Alvarez? After devouring thirty pages, I looked at the dedication and acknowledgments and found out Holden and Alvarez were good friends and had played in a weekly game together for decades. (I later learned that another poker writer, the late David Spanier, had gotten kicked out of the game for playing too tight, and WPT/WSOP winner Mel Judah, then a London hairdresser, had played in it.)

I could not have imagined that I would become close friends with Tony Holden, appear as a character in the sequel, Bigger Deal, and, through Tony, become pen pals with Al Alvarez. (I even wrote a column about one of my experiences with Tony for Card Player, titled "Thank Mel Judah." When I used the upcoming issue to introduce myself to Mel and ask him about his experiences in the Tuesday Night Game, he said, "Yeah, they kicked me out for winning too much. Terrible players.")

As I slowly overcame my fear of being the least experienced player in the crowded Mirage poker room, I started playing $3-$6 hold 'em whenever I was in Las Vegas. Soon I was finding excuses to "stop by" this poker room eighteen hundred miles from my home. I had moved up to $10-$20 and $20-$40 games and also played in some of the cardrooms outside Los Angeles and San Diego while on business in Southern California.

And I read.

It wouldn't be until the release of James McManus's Positively Fifth Street that I would find another poker narrative to fuel my imagination, but I found no shortage of challenging manuals on how to improve at the game. Like everyone else, I desperately wanted to get better.

Two Guns: David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth

I got lucky. The first book of poker strategy I ever owned was David Sklansky's Hold 'Em Poker. Originally published in 1976, this skinny book had a goofy cover, a typeface like a ransom note—and most of the concepts I have learned from the fifty to one hundred books I have read since (and the one you are reading now). With so many players learning poker and taking it seriously in the last few years, it may be difficult for a lot of people to understand how slow the learning curve was for a beginning player in the early nineties. With no poker rooms for almost two thousand miles, I probably played the same number of hands my first year as a new player today would in a week or two.

Semi-bluffing? Free cards? Pot odds? Imagine playing poker and being completely ignorant of those things. Just the idea that you played different cards based on your position at the table was a revelation.

Mike Matusow and Phil Ivey separately told me that that book was the only poker book they ever read. Howard Lederer told me, and he explains it in chapter 12, that Sklansky's book was responsible for his becoming a professional poker player. David and his collaborator/publisher Mason Malmuth deserve credit for permanently raising the quality of poker. I think I own a majority of the books they have written or published, have bought numerous copies for friends, and own multiple editions of a few.

The Book of Tells

Another book I picked up in the early nineties was Mike Caro's The Body Language of Poker. (It is better known by its current title, Caro's Book of Poker Tells.) I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say this book is as valuable to students of poker as Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams is to students of psychology. Frankly, Mike's book would be pretty valuable to students of psychology too.

I read through Caro but didn't study it until years later. Several players dismissed the book, saying, "It was huge back then, but so many players are familiar with it that they correct for those tells, or incorporate them as false signals." I'm glad I finally rediscovered Caro's Book of Poker Tells a few years ago. First, even if not a word of it is true anymore, I owed it to myself as a writer to read any book that was actually responsible for changing human behavior on such a large scale.

Second, things haven't changed that much. Sure, Howard Lederer knows which players are likely to have that level of knowledge and how to fake some tells to exploit it, but I'm already handing over my chips to Lederer if he's at my table, unless I get lucky with the cards. I haven't played a tournament yet where I drew the same table as Howard, Annie Duke, Chris Ferguson, Chip Reese, Mike Matusow, Phil Hellmuth, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harman, and Barry Greenstein. I have played with far, far more players who haven't mastered and exploited Mike Caro's revelations than I have played with those who have.

Third, and most important, when someone offers you something to help you at poker (or any activity involving skill), you can look at it in two ways—as a magic box or as a tool. Most criticism of learning tools is that they have flaws. They aren't a magic box.

Mike Caro's book is an incredibly useful tool, but not one to be used indiscriminately. I think close to 100 percent of the people who read it benefit from it, but that is far different from saying every word in it is correct or that for it to be worthwhile you have to automatically win every time you see a behavior described in the book and act on it.

Dolly Llama

I found the Rosetta Stone at the Gambler's Book Shop in 1992. I had just discovered the funky store on Eleventh Street in Las Vegas. A lot of the books that sell big at GBS can be found at your local bookstore—now. In 1992, the selection of poker books at bookstores was almost nonexistent. There were always a few titles, but they always managed to be years out of date and/or concerned games that I never saw spread at the Mirage or the Bicycle Club. David Sklansky? Maybe one title. Doyle Brunson? Never heard of him, and neither had the store's computers.

I can barely describe my excitement when I saw Super/System for the first time: shiny silver cover, silly caricature of a roly-poly man dribbling a basketball, 660 pages, $50 price tag. The book was practically an urban legend. I had read several things about it, but this was one of the few places on earth where I could see it and, better still, buy it. It didn't matter at all that I had never seen no-limit hold 'em (other than grainy VHS tapes of the final table of the World Series of Poker), or seven stud hi-lo split, or ace-to-five lowball, or that limit hold 'em as described by Bobby Baldwin was played with a single blind and antes.

Super/System described a way to think about poker. It didn't even matter what form the authors were writing about or what form you played. The best players in the world were discussing poker, and if you couldn't learn something by listening, then you weren't trying. I have described the book you are now holding as Super/System for tournaments, with better grammar and punctuation. Duplicating the concept of gathering great players (and great thinkers) and collecting their ideas was at the core of Super/System, and it is at the core of this book. The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition focuses on tournaments; Super/System and its sequel focused on cash games. This book has gathered a different but at least equally able group of gaming minds to share their insights.

Dan Harrington Detonates Poker

The current poker boom caught the strategists unprepared. Everyone wanted to play no-limit hold 'em, initially in tournaments. There were few books about tournament poker, though David Sklansky's Tournament Poker for Advanced Players introduced many important concepts, including the "gap concept" (referring to the gap in quality between the hand someone needs to bet and the hand needed to enter a pot after them).

But it was not the equivalent of the other Advanced Player guides. It was not a comprehensive examination of no-limit hold 'em tournament poker. Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie became the first to fill that need with a product good enough that, like several of Sklansky's and Malmuth's books, it permanently increased the quality of play. Between late 2004 and early 2006, they released three volumes of Harrington on Hold 'Em.

Within a week of purchasing the first volume, I recognized that tournaments would soon consist of two groups of players: those who understood the concepts in Harrington on Hold 'Em, and those who didn't. The books are a thoughtful, comprehensive, carefully reasoned approach to playing no-limit hold 'em hands and the strategic risks and opportunities created by how tournaments operate.

If I learned anything from conducting consecutive interviews with Chris Ferguson and Ted Forrest on no-limit hold 'em tournament strategy, it is that many different approaches can succeed. Although the pros tend to act indifferent to poker strategy books, the following opinions were generally held by the players I asked about Dan's book: (1) Harrington was an extremely skilled player (and you would be surprised how few players other pros will say that about); (2) his book contains a lot of good advice in nearly every area of tournament no-limit hold 'em; and (3) approaches different from his can work just as well and sometimes a lot better.

This is not a criticism of Harrington on Hold 'Em. Those books improved my own game, probably benefited all of the hundreds of thousands of people who bought them (if they read them), and, as I said, permanently lifted the level of tournament poker. You won't find anyplace in this book where a contributor describes something out of Harrington and then attacks it or explains how a different approach is better. You will, however, read advice that contradicts Dan Harrington's.

But guess what? Dan Harrington has done pretty well with his advice and so have people who followed it. And Chris Ferguson has done pretty well with his advice, and when he has given it, the people who followed it were glad they did. For that matter, you will read essays in this book that conflict with other essays here. One of my favorites is chapter 5, "(Don't) Play Like Ted Forrest," by Ted Forrest. I encouraged contributors to contradict each other, and specifically asked Ted if he wanted to say something about the common pre-flop strategy of raise-or-fold, which has been explained in this book by Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Andy Bloch.

Why Full Tilt?

I approached Howard Lederer about this project in November 2005, making the following points:

•  Although there were a few good books about tournament poker, there would always be room for a comprehensive tournament guide—all the games, advanced strategy on both the play of hands and tournament tactics.

•  Full Tilt Poker had a brilliant and diverse group of poker strategists among its pros and their insights would be valuable and desired.

•  A Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide would be consistent with's identification with helping players improve and the site's connection with professional poker (e.g., the site's weekly "Tips from the Pros" and Fox Sports Net's FullTiltPoker .net's Learn from the Pros television series).

I must have been persuasive, because Howard convinced the site's software company and helped me get other players to contribute.

Although I am friends with several Full Tilt pros, play on the site, and have thoroughly enjoyed this collaboration, I was not, during production of this book, an employee, consultant, or in any way affiliated with Full Tilt Poker. I am not saying that to avoid an association during this period of legal uncertainty about the status of online poker; during post-production, I began writing The Full Tilt Poker Blog partly to promote the ideas of this book.

I am telling you this because I want you to know that this book will not ram (or .net) down your throat.

Full Tilt provided a unifying purpose to round up and motivate the contributors. But nobody will hector you to play poker online or to play on their site. There are few references to Full Tilt in this book that could conceivably be considered "persuasive" for the site. Even chapter 10, "Online Tournament Strategy," by Richard Brodie, mentions the site several times only because it was necessary to describe how the limits and levels of online tournaments compared to casino tournaments. It would have been pretty silly for Richard to pick a tournament structure from some other site.

The Structure of This Book

No-limit hold 'em dominates tournament poker. Therefore, especially considering the accomplishments of the contributors, it is covered in a comprehensive fashion in this book. Chapters 3 through 10 are all about no-limit hold 'em tournaments. Chapters 3 through 5 are essays by Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, and Ted Forrest. Chapters 6 and 7, by Andy Bloch and Chris Ferguson, respectively, are about pre-flop and post-flop play. Chapters 8 and 9 concern how to play a big stack (by Gavin Smith) and how to play a short stack (by Phil Gordon). Richard Brodie wraps up the no-limit hold 'em chapters by applying all these concepts to online tournaments.

Chapters 11 and 12 concern other forms of tournament hold 'em. Chapter 11 explains how to adapt no-limit strategy to pot-limit hold 'em tournaments, by Rafe Furst and Andy Bloch. Chapter 12, the longest of the book, is Howard Lederer's strategy for playing limit hold 'em tournaments.

Chapters 13 and 14 cover Omaha. Mike Matusow was responsible for chapter 13 on tournament Omaha eight-or-better. Chris Ferguson wrote chapter 14 on pot-limit Omaha tournaments.

The next section of the book consists of four chapters on forms of stud poker. Chapter 15, by Keith Sexton, describes the play of stud hands in tournaments. Chapter 16, by David Grey, explains strategic concepts in seven-card stud tournaments. Chapter 17, by Ted Forrest, describes his strategy for playing stud eight-or-better tournaments. Chapter 18 was actually written by me, as a witness to a remarkable conversation between Forrest and Huckleberry Seed in the form of a razz lesson they gave me the night before that event at the 2006 World Series of Poker.

The concluding materials include an unusual and innovative examination of the mental game of poker. Chapter 19, "Roshambo and the Mental Game of Poker," by Rafe Furst, explains how this children's game (or, more accurately, a game now played for money by adults who behave like children) can teach valuable lessons on the mental game of poker.

When I wrote The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King, I had an ambitious, egotistical goal, which I was smart enough to keep to myself. I wanted to write a book that would stand the test of time. My idols were Holden and Alvarez, and I placed McManus on that pedestal. I wanted to reveal a story, a world, and a group of people, all of which were too unusual to be real, but too compelling to be imagined.

But I have no need for false modesty with The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition. You will judge this book by the quality of its advice, the questions it leads you to ask, the answers it leads you to find, and, ultimately, the role it plays in your tournament poker experiences. I claim credit for gathering this remarkable team of contributors, keeping them on task, editing their work, and delivering it in completed form. The claim I am staking with the Tournament Edition is a bet on the quality and presentation of poker strategy by Andy Bloch, Richard Brodie, Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Rafe Furst, Phil Gordon, David Grey, Howard Lederer, Mike Matusow, Huckleberry Seed, Keith Sexton, and Gavin Smith.

The twelve contributors to this book have won over $30 million in tournament poker, including the following:

•  Two World Series of Poker Championships (and four more final table appearances)

•  Twenty-one World Series of Poker bracelets (including multiple bracelets by six contributors)

•  Four Hall of Fame watches

•  Four World Poker Tour victories (and seven more final table appearances)

•  Two World Poker Tour players of the year

•  Two World Series of Poker Circuit rings (and three more final table appearances)

•  One World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions winner (and two more final table appearances)

•  One Professional Poker Tour victory

•  One National Heads-Up Championship (and two runner-up finishes)

I want the Tournament Edition to stand the test of time. With these horses, I like our chances.

Notes on Hand Representations

Many, many hands are described in this book, and several are graphically depicted. Most readers will be familiar with the shorthand notations, but here are the conventions followed:

•  In the community-card games (see chapters 3 through 14), an X represents a random card. For example, A-X means an ace and a random card.

•  In the stud-card games (see chapters 15 through 18), an X represents a hole card as it appears to other players. The hole cards, when their identity is known, are denoted by parentheses. For example, (T9)T is a starting hand with the ten of diamonds exposed (or "in the door") and hole cards of the ten of clubs and the nine of diamonds.

•  Where the suits are not included with the cards, like A-T, that means the suits (and whether the hand is suited) are not material to the example. When listing minimum hand requirements, A-Ts means the ace and ten are suited, A-To means they are not suited, and A-T includes both suited and unsuited combinations of those two cards.


No-Limit Hold 'Em: How to Bet

by Chris Ferguson

Entering the Pot, Play All Your Hands the Same

One of the most important principles in no-limit hold 'em is to conceal the strength of your hand. To do this, experienced players agree you need to mix up your play. Most people believe this means playing the same hand in different ways, for example, sometimes limping with A-A and sometimes making a big raise with A-A.

This is wrong! To conceal the strength of your hand, you need to play different hands the same way. Once you decide you are going to play a hand, make the same bet whether it is the strongest hand you would play in that situation, like A-A, or the weakest, like 7-6. Playing the same hand in different ways may confuse some opponents but can still give away a lot of information about your hand. For example, if you sometimes limp with A-A and never limp with any other hand, and you sometimes make a huge raise with A-A but not with any other hand, observant opponents will be able to deduce exactly what you have whenever you limp or make a huge raise.

Raise, Don't Call

At all times, you should try to avoid calling and you should never be the first caller before the flop. Apart from the information you give away about your hand, raising puts pressure on the blinds and other players at the table. Chances are that by raising, you'll force marginal hands to fold before the flop, limiting the number of players you have to beat through the rest of the hand. You may even limit that number to zero and pick up the blinds and antes.

If you have A-A or A-K, you want strong hands to call you. A lot of strong hands that will call a raise, such as A-J, have a worse chance of beating you than weak hands that will fold to a raise, such as 7-6s. If everyone folds to the small blind (who calls) and you have A-K in the big blind, would you rather be up against A-7 or J-7? By raising, you will probably get the J-7 to fold and the A-7 will likely call, which is exactly what you want. If I told you I had a magical way to make opponents fold hands that do well against you and call with hands that do poorly, you'd think I was nuts.

Well, here it is: raising with your strongest hands frequently accomplishes this.

When you have no money invested in a pot, you never do worse with larger blinds. By making a small raise instead of limping, you are either picking up the pot, if the blinds fold, or effectively making the blinds larger if they don't. This means making a small raise is a win-win over limping. The fact is, any hand worth a call is automatically worth a raise. That is the real reason why you should always raise if you are the first player entering a pot.

Obviously, I don't agree that you should make the first call with hands that play better against a large field. The idea behind this reasoning is that your call is supposed to induce others to call and create a multiway pot. But because you are signaling that you have this kind of hand, what if this induces players behind you to raise? Even if they do call behind you, they too will have hands that do well multiway, but they have position, giving them the best of it. If you limp with a strong hand, you are encouraging a multiway pot with opponents whose hands don't play too badly against you. The only possible circumstance for limping, therefore, would be in a pot in which there are already limpers, you have a hand that plays well multiway, and you have position.

So I say, raise or fold. If your hand is worth playing, it is worth a raise. If not, you should fold.

If you raise or fold every hand, you are giving away the minimum amount information. All your opponents know is that you don't have a folding hand. So you probably don't have 7-4o or T-6o. But you are equally likely to have 4-4 as A-A, and equally likely to have A-Ko as J-To.

Three Versions of Raise-or-Fold

There are three versions of the "never limp" rule: strong, medium, and weak. When I won the World Series in 2000, I played the strong version. I never called before the flop, except in the big blind or in a limped pot in the small blind. Never. If I was the first in, I raised or folded. If someone limped in before me, I raised or folded. If someone raised before me, I reraised or folded. That's the style I played back then. It was extremely effective against weaker players who played too many hands. If they limped in front of me, they had to give up their chips or play a weak hand for a bigger pot. It was also effective against stronger players who didn't want to gamble and gave too much respect to my raising hands, thinking, "If he raised instead of calling, he must be very strong."

I don't play such a strong version of "never limp" anymore, so I'm not saying it can't be improved on. But it is extremely difficult to defend against. This is the style I recommend for all beginners, intermediate players, and anyone playing against experts. This will give them the best chance to win.

I play the weak


On Sale
Jun 1, 2007
Page Count
448 pages

Andy Bloch

About the Author

Michael Craig lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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