WSOP Winner

Win At Poker Even If You’re Not A Pro | Strategies You Need to Know

I just received this order, “How to Win at Poker” and it couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s so strange how bad things can lead to good things. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, or if I consciously and subconsciously try to find ways to turn bad things into good things.

Did I just try to make myself sound too cool? My bad. I’ll put it this way: When something bad happens, it’s not necessarily bad. It might be something that’s actually leading you in the right direction but you don’t realize it at the time.

The bad things that recently happened to me weren’t too bad. On a scale of 1-10 with decimals, they were a 1.1. If we’re only using that scale for poker, they were a 2.1. Still not very high. However, they do relate to the topic at hand. Now that I have kept you in suspense, I shall reveal those ‘bad things.’


Due to the Coronavirus, I have been playing online poker. Since I don’t trust most online poker sites, I’m almost exclusively playing on PokerStars. It’s a play money site, but we settle up prior to and after the tournament. I will not reveal where I play. That would not be cool. There is no sense inquiring anyway because the club is full.

The tournaments I’m playing in are mostly $16 buy-ins. Yes, $16. So, I have gone from playing in mostly $120, $135, $400, and $1,700 buy-ins to $16. And you know what? I love it! If I lose, I just say, “Whatever.” I can’t be too whatever-ish though because I’m using these tournaments for SPATS 100, which is SPATS being applied to tournaments.

I know some of you will think that I shouldn’t be writing a book about $16 buy-in tournaments, but I disagree. One, there are some $31 and $51 tourneys in the club as well, but that’s not my defense. My defense is much stronger.

The majority of my audience consists of low-stakes players and bar league players. When they read about the bigger events in my other books, they read more for entertainment. With SPATS 100, they will be able to relate to everything I’m writing. They will also see if SPATS is effective in tourneys or not. If so, they can apply what they learn.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the book because I want people to read it, but I’m through 29 of 100 tournaments and I’m ahead. It’s possible I head south, and it’s possible I’m ahead by more by the end of the book. I don’t even know the answer to that. Either way, let’s get to those bad things.


Those bad things happened in these small buy-in poker tournaments. Overall, I’m ahead in this club. I’m not ahead a lot of money because the stakes aren’t high, but the return is nice. If I played these all day and every day, I would be happy. But I have to do other things, like write these articles, write books, edit books, do a radio show, exercise, spend time with my son, walk my dog, call West Virginia Bob, etc.

As far as those bad things go, thank you for waiting patiently. I’m going to give you three examples of what happened to me in three big spots. I’m going to use these examples because they all happened when my friend Keith was at my table. Therefore, I have a witness.


On the first one, was running bad in the tournament and needed to make a move. So I 4-bet with 4h 2h. I got two callers and the flop came: A35-rainbow. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I used deceptive tactics to get one of my opponent to put all her chips into the pot. She tabled A3. An A came on the river. I busted.

There are two ways to look at this. One, on that flop, I wasn’t going anywhere, and the turn was a dud, so I still wouldn’t have gone anywhere. However, this entire situation could have been avoided. If you really think about poker strategy for winning, 42s is – EV (Expected Value). This means it’s a long-term loser if you keep playing it. I went Psycho Mode by 4-betting with it.

Now you have to look at it from the angle of a poker pro. If you’re running bad and you’re at a table where everyone calls, you have limited options. There is no escape. You must do something to change the momentum. Or is that false?

Look deeper. Yes, I was running bad, but what I didn’t tell you was that I still had 3,175 chips after beginning with 5,000, and we were only on Level 4. My hand, 42s, is within SPATS, and it’s there so you remain unpredictable, but you don’t have to play SPATS hands, it’s just that they are the only hands you can play.

Here’s what I’m trying to say. In Texas Hold’em Poker, patience is the #1 priority if you want to be a long-term winner. Did I surprise my opponents? Yes. Bottom line is that 4-betting with 42s is not recommended. You certainly won’t find it on my list of poker tips, and it’s a bad poker strategy for tournaments. I got very lucky on the flop. Even with that, my hand didn’t hold. If I had simply remained patient with 3,175 chips, my story for that tournament might not have ended right there.

Now you might be asking yourself how you know when to play and what not to play hands within the SPATS range. There is a simple solution. Only see a maximum of 19% of flops. If you’re above that, keep folding until you get there. Most of the time, when you get to 19%, your stack will move slowly higher. When your Flops Seen keeps moving higher, your stack will usually move lower with alacrity. Keep the game simple.


The second example is when I flopped a set of kings, knew my opponent held AK, and jammed. I got a call, which was great. I was 96.04% to win the hand. But I wouldn’t be telling you this story unless it went bad, right? My opponent hit a backdoor flush.

On this hand, I was just above the starting stack and put it all into the pot. And at 96.04%, I would do it over and over again. I just got extremely unlucky. I can outplay my opponents most of the time, but I can’t control what happens after that.


On the third hand, I held QQ, raised 4x the BB due to the way the table was playing, and got two callers. Flop: J94. Two checks to me. I knew I would be wasting my time with this hand if I tried to trap my opponents. I jammed, knowing I would get a call from top pair. Was indeed called by AJ and I was a 75% favorite. As you might have guessed, my opponent hit an A on the turn. Well, you might have guessed the river, but it wasn’t that dramatic. No Q on the river.

I would take this spot every time as well, but here’s the thing, by jamming, jamming, jamming, you are taking a different route. You’re essentially playing to Ship It! That means win the entire tournament. Since these are $16 buy-ins, that’s what I’m doing. The wins make up for all the bad luck. But I need to take these chances in order to Ship It!

At the same time, this doesn’t mean you should take the same course of action. Look at the whole story from a different perspective. Let’s say you’re playing more conservatively. You never play 42s and still have a chance at cashing in that tourney, you don’t jam the flop with a set of kings and have a chance of moving your opponent off his flush draw on the turn, and if you play it standard with QQ, you might get re-raised on the turn by two pair and sense that you’re behind, which will lead to a fold.


If I had played all three hands above standard, I might have still had a shot at ITM (In The Money) in all three of them. I’m not saying this is the correct or incorrect path. I’m just saying it might be the path for you. In fact, if you’re reading an article titled: “Win at Poker Even If You’re Not a Pro,” then it’s the right path for you. Even though I only jam when I’m a favorite (majority of the time), I’m still putting myself at risk. You might want to drive in the NIT lane for a while.

By the way, some of you might have picked up on the fact that I have recommend increasing risk when you’re an underdog. I have written about that many times. But there is a difference between that poker strategy for tournaments and what I’m writing here.

In those situations, I’m always saying the same thing: You don’t want to play against a poker pro street by street. They will know where you stand most of the time. You want to reduce the skill aspect of the game in those situations and get all your chips into the middle pre-flop as much as possible.

This sounds ridiculous to some people. I get that. But it’s not about what something sounds like. It’s about reality. And the reality is this: If other players see you jamming pre-flop, they’re eventually going to lose respect for you and call with 77. If you jammed pre-flop, then you’re likely ahead or it’s a race. And that’s a good spot for a double-up. Just pick your spots.


In 99% of Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, you’re not playing against the field, you’re playing against yourself. What happens more often: Busting and being upset because you were outplayed or you busting and being upset because you made a bad decision? I’m going to guess it’s the latter.

You can know all the poker strategy in the world, but those strategies are best suited for cash games. Poker tournaments are a different beast. They are 100% about navigation. And the only way you can navigate correctly is to know what this person does in this spot, what that person does in that spot, how you should play your hands based on your stack size, the best route to the ITM, knowing the payout ladder, and your best route to the final table.

WSOP final table

Do you really think your best route to the final table is to consistently call all-ins with AQo because that’s what standard poker strategy says when the Button jams and you’re in the Big Blind with a similar stack?

The most important information is the player. Does he consistently open on the Button? Is he TAG, LAG, Maniac, NIT, AGGRO, something else? If he’s TAG or NIT, then it’s an easy fold. And it’s not impossible for loose players to have premium hands.

Here’s the other thing. Even if you’re ahead, you’re still putting all your chips at risk. He can still win the hand with 76s. Do you want to make that call after investing hours and hours? Or do you want to wait for a better spot when you know you’re ahead? Such as with the third nuts on the river and your opponent has been calling the whole way down with no raises?

This is a tricky spot for me as a writer. The poker pro will say that you always put yourself in a mathematically advantageous situation. But who are the poker pros? How many of those poker pros really make money? Most of them are firing bullets left and right because they want to add to their HendonMob so they can get a backer. Are there some real poker pros out there who crush it? Hell yeah! Don’t be fooled because that’s the minority.

If you really want to win in poker tournaments, fold and wait for a better spot. There is no rule that you have to call an all-in from the Button with AQo. Contrary to popular belief, poker tournaments aren’t about ‘making the right play.’ They are about navigating minefields and staying in the game until you have the ammo to strike and control the game, which will hopefully be at the final table.

When you change gears and go AGGRO at this point, you’re going to get a ton of respect because of the way you were playing earlier: TAG or NIT (or NIT With A Twist). Opponents will be uber-confused. You can even throw in a 3-bet with a hand like 97s. If you show that hand for any reason, they will have no clue what direction you’re coming from going forward. If you were playing SPATS in a conservative way, then you had only been showing premium hands prior to that.


There are many poker tips in this article, but here’s the bottom line: If you’re not an expert and you want to win at poker, play fewer hands to reduce variance and stay in the game. You can do this by applying SPATS and/or 19%.

Others might view you as a NIT, but if you can successfully eliminate Ego and not care what other people think, you can use that image to your advantage late in tournaments and finally see your poker goals come true. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone else who has applied SPATS. Enjoy!

♠ pokerjournal.org | Tyler Nals