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Five Keys to Playing Against Tough Opponents

Ideally you want to play in games where you’re clearly the best player at the table. In No Limit Hold’em tournaments, however, you don’t have the luxury of choosing which table you’ll be playing at.

Unless you truly believe that you’re the absolute best poker player on the planet
(you’re not), here are some adjustments to make when playing against superior opponents.

Make Larger Pre-Flop Raises

As a rule, I’m a big advocate of making small raises before the flop rather than oversized ones. That being said, when you’re facing tough players, you should be seeing fewer flops and be willing to risk a few more chips in order to steal the blinds. This is especially true when facing a tough player in the big blind.

Tough players are notorious blind defenders who play well after the flop. So, avoid marginal situations against them by making slightly larger pre-flop raises in an attempt to get them to fold.
 For example, if your standard raise is about three times the big blind, increase it to four times when a strong player is in the big blind. With a hand like 8-8 or A-Q, you’d be better off picking up the blinds with no resistance rather than playing a flop against this tough opponent.


Avoid Marginal Situations

If a tough player raises from early position, don’t call him with marginal hands like K-J or Q-10. Those hands aren’t very good in any situation, but they’re especially vulnerable against a great player who isn’t going to make many mistakes after the flop.

Target Weaker Players

Look to play more hands against the less-skilled players at your table.

If that means stretching your starting hand requirements against them, then that’s what you need to do. In fact, you’d be much better off playing a hand like 5c-3c against a weaker player than you would be by playing a hand like A-10 against a top player.

Against the weak player, you’ll be able to outplay him after the flop by bluffing or by getting him to pay you off when you have him crushed. That’s not the case when you’re up against a player that might be better than you. Here, you run the all-too-likely risk of being outplayed yourself.

Don’t Get Too Cute

One of the biggest mistakes players make when they’re outclassed is that they add too much trickery to their game in the hope of outplaying a better opponent.

Give it up.

Your focus should be on playing fundamentally sound poker. If you do, it will be difficult for a better player to exploit you.  When you get too creative in an attempt to fool him, he’ll usually see right through the play and turn the tables on you.

Play Cautiously  

Don’t play big tournament pots against the best player at your table unless you have a monster hand.
Sure, you eventually must beat all of the players in order to get the first place trophy, but it’s a better policy to worry about them later rather than sooner. You can even hope that the best player takes a bad beat from one of the weaker opponents. Those are chips you can more easily pick up.

Even if you have a very strong hand on the river – one that you’re fairly sure has your opponent beat – take the safe route and call him rather than raise.

There is less value in raising a great player on the river because it could cost you all of your chips if he does have you beat.  Besides, when you do have the better hand, a great player won’t call your raise anyway.
Here’s the bottom line: Don’t play scared poker, but when you spot a strong opponent, choose your battles wisely.


Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.


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