Unconventional – Playing Poker With the Professionals

For many years Texas No limit Hold-Em  (NLH) tournaments were the realm of poker professionals and remained a seemingly out-of-reach game of complex hand and people reading. Indeed, NLH is a game of math and statistics, and understanding the math as well as your opponent were the keys to victory. However, these keys were only available, it seemed, if you devoted your life to the game and were a professional, spending all your days and nights sitting at a table playing hand after hand for years. The average player sitting down at a table with anyone who knew what they doing would soon find himself watching the game rather than playing in it, having lost all of his chips to the wily veterans.

With their book, Kill Phil, authors Blair Rodman, Lee Nelson and Steven Heston gave the poker hopefuls all over the world a chance to sit at the table with the pros and level the playing field. In fact, their system was so powerful, it did more than level the field – it forced experienced and professional players to change their game.

Because NLH is a game of math, it can be solved, and the human element can be taken out. Kill Phil (KP) enabled players of all levels to compete in tournaments without the need to read people or understand why each player did what he did. NLH requires a set of decisions to be made with each hand played. These decisions, already complex, are multiplied when there are more than two people in the hand and with each flip of the three hole cards. Each hand involves at least one decision to fold, check (make no bet and pass to the next player) or bet – or call or raise, if someone else has already bet. Any hand can, however, turn from a single decision to a string of decisions, each potentially resulting in even more decisions to be made.

This decision making process is where the professional separates himself from the casual player. Much like chess, the player must be able to look into the future and see possible outcomes, while taking into account the statistical math that changes as the hand plays out. The more decisions a player is forced to make, the higher the chance he will make a mistake, and in the case of casual players, this spells disaster resulting in a rapid loss of precious chips.

The KP strategy allows the amateur to compete by removing much of the decision making process, thus eliminating many of the chances to make costly mistakes. By removing the need to make so many post-flop (when the first three hole cards are flipped over) decisions, the professional’s advantage is nullified to a great extent. By playing a strategy that is close to “push or fold” (meaning bet everything or fold and don’t play – an all or nothing decision) exclusively, the amateur forces the pro to fold hands he would have otherwise played, and possibly won, even without the best hand. This is because professional, experienced players NEVER want to bet ALL their chips, putting their entire tournament on the line with one hand. While usually necessary at some point in a tournament, the longer a player can play without risking all his chips, the better. Playing the KP system takes advantage of this fear of risk – a player, no matter how experienced, cannot win if he is unwilling to stay in the hand.

While effective, this strategy, like any other, does not – cannot – guarantee success or victory. It is still a game of statistics, and at some point the KP player will need the math to be in his favor. Played properly, however, the player will be risking his chips only when the math is in his favor, thus increasing his chances of winning.

Like any other unconventional strategy that takes away Goliath’s strengths, this one has its critics. Purists do not like the all or nothing betting, claiming that it turns players into unthinking robots. While there may be some kernel of truth to this, the KP system still requires a player to learn the game and understand when to make his move, which requires more than just a basic understanding of the game. The larger truth is that the KP system takes away their ability to get into, or stay in hands, thus limiting their ability and chances to increase their chip count.

Like any other unconventional strategy, the KP system displays three essential elements:

It requires dedicated work – players must study and learn the correct moves to make with which cards, and when.

It requires a willingness to put all your chips on the line AT ANY TIME – a move considered reckless or foolish by most experienced players.

It was not socially accepted by the professionals (the Goliaths) because they did not feel it stayed true to the widely accepted way the game was played until then.

Since the book was released in 2006, poker has changed dramatically, with the aggressive moves taught in the book becoming the norm, rather than the outlier. With the popularity of online poker and shorter tournaments, the KP strategy was the foundation of a new breed of NLH player and has been found to be the correct philosophy within these games.


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