From the mind of Kid Poker: Daniel Negreanu

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By Christopher Cosenza

If you judged a book by its cover then you’d swear Daniel Negreanu’s long-awaited contribution to poker education should be titled SuperSystem 3. It’s published by the same company as the SuperSystem series (Cardoza Publishing), the binding and back cover use the same familiar yellow font, and the book’s format is very similar in that a handful of well-known pros contribute chapters on their “specialty.”

But this is not SuperSystem 3; it’s Power Hold’em Strategy. Negreanu chose close friends Evelyn Ng, Todd Brunson, Erick Lindgren, Paul Wasicka and David Williams to help him cover the “undercard” topics, similarly how Doyle Brunson chose such greats as Mike Caro, Chip Reese and Bobby Baldwin to help him write the original SuperSystem. When the elder Brunson updated his series with SuperSystem 2, he enlisted his son, Todd, and Negreanu to write chapters on Stud/8 and Deuce-to-7 Triple Draw, respectively.

It was the sheer brilliance of those two chapters that had the poker world eagerly anticipating Negreanu’s release.

But first, Ng, a very popular pro who grew up with Negreanu in Toronto and was his poker student, was given the task of writing the introduction to tournament poker chapter titled “Big Bet No Limit Hold’em.” She simply describes the system Negreanu had taught her when she first broke into poker many years ago. It’s a very basic strategy for combating pro players and minimizing difficult decisions, a method ironically reflected later in Negreanu’s advanced “small ball” chapter.

If you missed our interview with Evy go to anteupmagazine.com and download last month’s Ante Up for free. She discusses what it was like writing for Power Hold’em Strategy and how influential Negreanu has been.

I have to admit, Todd Brunson’s Stud/8 chapter in SS2 changed my poker life, turning me from a no-limit hold’em specialist into someone who calls Stud/8 every chance he gets in the home game. But his contribution to Power Hold’em fell far short, and it’s likely not his fault. Brunson, a brilliant player, makes reference to the publisher limiting his space, handcuffing his ability to really expound upon his concepts for winning at high-limit cash games. But then the publisher wastes 10 pages in this chapter with trap-hand card illustrations depicting what had been done succinctly with a tight one-page chart.

Brunson also says he was asked to write a little about the famed “Big Game” where the world’s top players gather at the Bellagio in Las Vegas to play for enormous stakes. But we learn nothing from it and any fan of poker already knows about that game. I would’ve much rather had those combined 12 pages given to Brunson so he could share more of his knowledge. There were content problems as well. The title of the chapter is “Winning at High Limit Cash Games” but then he writes edicts such as “Don’t bluff calling stations,” and “Never bluff an idiot!” If you’re playing in high-stakes cash games and picking up this book for tips and education, these certainly aren’t things you’d need to learn.

My favorite line from this chapter: “If you play full time (2,000 hours a year) you will only face set under set once or twice a year, so don’t even worry about it.” Clearly this is meant for live play, and coincidentally is how Negreanu was knocked out of this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event very early on his Day 1.

But Brunson’s chapter easily could apply to all limits, and the most valuable lesson you could extract might come from his thoughts on buy-ins and table image. One final note on Brunson: He now considers A-Q to be a premium hand, which essentially contradicts his father’s SuperSystem. It’s a testament to the “evolution” of today’s poker game vs. the game of the ’70s.

Lindgren, who started as an Internet pro before making a name for himself on the live pro circuit, naturally contributes the “Playing No Limit Hold’em Online” chapter. His best writing comes in his “Short Stack Buy-In Theories and Strategies” section. The hit-and-run strategy (where basically you buy in light, wait for a raise and caller and then shove with a decent starting hand) is touted as a solid strategy. But he breaks down different ways to make the short stack work (plus how to combat it) and it’s enlightening.

One of the problems with having different people contribute chapters for one book is having them step on each other’s toes. Such is the case here with Wasicka’s chapter on playing short-handed cash games online. A good editor would pick up on this and remove the repetition, which actually occurs sometimes in three chapters. But then again, repetition is good for learning so perhaps these weren’t oversights after all.

Wasicka’s note-taking portion is most helpful. His method involves witnessing an action made by a player and then making a note that uses questions marks, such as “Likes to squeeze?” Only after he sees this player make this same move will he remove the question marks to confirm this is a clear pattern worth exploiting.

He also describes the different personas at a short-stacked table (the bludgeoner, the crafty one and the meta-gamer) but he really isn’t allowed to get into great detail on how to emulate these styles, which again may be a victim of space. But with a 520-page opus you’d like to think he’d be given more room to expound on such important aspects. As a poker society we have progressed beyond the need to have Texas Hold’em rules explained to us on TV; maybe publishers can learn from their TV colleagues and remove the very basic 30-page glossary of terms from this manual (and every other poker book), which would then give writers plenty of room to teach.

One final helpful tidbit from Wasicka: When choosing a seat online, if two adjacent seats are open always choose the left one. Since you won’t know how the player who fills the other seat will play you’d like him on your right so you act last, and accordingly.
Williams, the young aggressive pro who finished second in the 2004 WSOP Main Event, pens the “Mixing It Up” chapter. He uses quite a few “real life” examples to get his point across of how mixing up your tactics can pay off, but his best advice comes in “Check-Raise Bluffs.”

He says check-raising with nothing and winning may give you an unrivaled high, but he advocates a different strategy: leading out with a big bet postflop into a predictable player. This method gets you the same information as a check-raise for less money. “That’s one of the reasons I don’t like check-raising a player on the flop,” he writes. “You risk double your chips – your opponent’s bet plus your raised amount – to find out if he’s serious about playing with you. If you get reraised or if he moves in on you, you’ve lost a lot of chips.”

But obviously the jewel of this book is Negreanu’s chapter, which explains his theory of “small ball” poker. What is meant by small ball? Think of it as small-bet poker with minimal risk. This chapter, and most of the book for that matter, is very conversational and easy to read. It’s not bogged down with math, pot odds, starting hand requirements or charts like other poker “bibles.”

At the core if his “theory” are two very easy-to-grasp concepts: smallish bets and position. He advocates always raising 2.5 times the big blind when entering the pot, and nearly always doing it on the button or in late position. His chapter is dominated with tournament talk, but the concepts could translate to cash games if applied correctly. Very little time is spent on playing out of position, borne from the idea he wants you to make very few difficult decisions.

If you follow Negreanu’s philosophy (calling them theories makes it sound complicated and that would defeat the purpose of his conversational writing) you will be in position most of the time while risking minimal chips.

One caveat: Negreanu admits you will lose a lot more pots this way to aggressive players, but your involvement in so many more pots will more than make up for the ones you lose. Also, he advises you to really know how your opponents play and he puts a lot of stock in your ability to assign hands to a particular action.

Negreanu, who is a member of the PokerStars roster, best sums up whether this style of play is for you: “It’s important to understand that by playing small ball, you will take more lumps and lose more pots than you will when you are playing big-bet poker. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you are emotionally stable enough to handle some rough patches, playing this way will allow you to stick around long in the tournaments, as well as ensure that your entire stack will not be at risk very often.”

There are a few other golden nuggets as well, including “Position is power. When we have position we need to use it. But when we don’t have it, we need to respect it.” You may think it’s obvious, but in the context of what he’s selling, it becomes quite clear this is an axiom you need to remember at all times.

Negreanu recognizes some of his plays may seem weak to the casual poker player, but they’re so rooted in advanced play that their subtleness, which escapes the average rounder, will save you a lot of chips. And his examples cement his ideas quite perfectly.
His chapter alone, which is nearly half the book, is worth the $35 price tag. Now, if we could only convince Cardoza to give Todd Brunson more space …