Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Playing Hot and Cold Hands Late in a Tournament

Playing hot and cold hands refers to the strategy of entering into a pot solely on the basis of the hand’s merit before the flop. Running a hand hot and cold generally means that you’re willing to play out your cards with no more betting after the flop.

Knowing how and when to play a hot and cold hand is especially important late in a tournament when escalating blinds and antes force players to move all-in rather than make standard sized raises. When that happens, adjust your starting hand requirements by only playing hands that have a decent chance to win with no more betting after the flop.

Say, for example, you’re sitting at a nine-handed tournament table with a large stack in relation to the blinds. In this situation, even a hand like 4h-5h has value because if you hit a straight, flush, or better, you stand to win a substantial pot by getting fully paid off on your later bets. A hand like, K-8 offsuit, though, would have negligible value — unless your goal is to steal the blinds. And in that case, your hand is totally irrelevant anyway.

Let’s tweak the scenario a bit. You’re still at the nine-handed table but now it’s much later in the tournament and your stack is taking a beating. Any raise will essentially commit all of your chips. That’s not good. In this situation, you’re going to have to wait for a hand that you can semi-confidently move all-in with.

The question is: With which hand would you rather gamble for all of your chips, 4h-5h or K-8 offsuit?

If you answered 4h-5h, you just might be too in love with suited connectors! The correct answer K-8 offsuit because that hand plays much better hot and cold.

Playing a loose-aggressive style with small suited connectors can be effective early in a tournament. Later, though, as blinds increase and your chips start to dwindle, stick to high card hands. True, 4h-5h plays better than K-8 when there’s a lot of post-flop action, but the K-8 will fare much better in this classic hot and cold scenario.

Face it, sometimes you’ll have to make a desperation move late in a tournament in an attempt to steal the blinds. You’ll need cards that compete against a range of hands that any other player would likely call with. Small suited connectors will almost always be a substantial underdog. In our example, you’d be in huge trouble against any pair, fives or higher. And though you’d still likely be the underdog playing K-8, you’d actually be in much better shape. If your opponent has any pair, sevens through queens, spiking a king on the board will probably win you the pot.

Though I’ve used K-8 in this example, hands that increase most in value in hot and cold situations are those that contain an ace.

With an ace in your hand, you’ll only be a monster underdog against pocket bullets. Even ace-deuce could be a slight favorite against an opponent who holds a seemingly more powerful hand like K-Q. Get lucky with an ace coming up on the board and your opponent is pretty much cooked. Didn’t catch an ace? Well, he still needs to pair his king or queen to beat you.

So here’s the bottom line. When you’re forced to move all-in late in a tournament, adjust your thinking away from playing “pretty” hands with implied odds. Instead, stick to hands that have a decent chance to win hot and cold.



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


© 2008 Card Shark Media. All rights reserved.