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T.J. Cloutier's Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold'em

T.J. Cloutier's Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold'em

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“Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier are an awesome team of hold’em players and writers. Now they have put their heads together and come up with the bible on no-limit and pot-limit hold’em.” –Phil Hellmuth, 1989 World Champion of Poker

“If there is one player that all of us fear the most at the final table, it is T.J. Cloutier.” –Berry Johnston, 1986 World Champion of Poker

“Tom McEvoy’s tournament advice is the best ever written.” –Barbara Enright, 1996 World Champion, Pot-Limit Hold’em

T.J. is the best no-limit player on the tournament circuit today.” –Hans “Tuna” Lund, 1996 World Champion, Ace-to-5 Lowball

“T.J. Cloutier is the number one no-limit poker player in the world. He and Tom McEvoy have written a book that is very much needed, but I think they may be giving away too much in Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold’em.” –Mansour Matloutbi, 1990 World Champion of Poker

T.J. Cloutier won the Player of the Year award in 1998 and 2002. He has appeared at the championship table at the World Series of Poker a remarkable four times, placing second in 1985 and 2000. Overall he has won more titles in no-limit and pot-limit hold’em than any other tournament player in the history of poker.

Tom McEvoy, 1983 World Champion of Poker, learned to play poker at a young age. After deciding that accounting was not his career of choice, he dedicated himself to playing poker professionally. He has won millions of dollars playing poker tournaments and is considered one of the best tournament players in the world.

This is the acknowledged bible to winning at two of the world’s most exciting poker games; pot-limit and no-limit hold’em tournaments. Packed with insights, game play situations, and advice on every aspect of the game, you’ll get all the answers here—no holds barred—to the essential strategies and concepts that will allow you to beat no-limit and pot-limit tournaments, satellites, and supersatellites.

Professional players use the strategies outlines in this book to win cash games, tournaments, championships and million dollar prizes. You too can learn from two champions who are among the elite in the world of poker tournaments. You can trust this advice; it’s from players who have won seven World Series of poker bracelets and hundreds of titles between them.

T.J. Cloutier’s Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold’em is a good book for those who are tired of reading all the limit books on hold’em. However, the book is not for everyone. It is somewhat similar to Mike Caro’s Book of Tells in that it is better for those who play in brick and mortar/home game environments than online rooms. Also, the book has too much emphasis on tournament strategy and not enough on cash game strategy in my opinion. Also, Pot-Limit seems to be emphasized more so than No-Limit.

T.J. Cloutier talks a lot about Phil Helmuth in the book. The very first thing you see when opening the book is the following:
"Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier [have] come up with the Bible on no-limit and pot-limit hold'em"
--Phil Helmuth, World Champion of Poker, 1989

The About the Author section notes that Cloutier has appeared at the WSOP championship table 4 times.

The Foreword by Mansour Matloubi discusses the importance of knowing your opponent, something T.J. Cloutier is an expert at:
"T.J. would rather play his opponents than his cards." [15]

Stressing the importance of knowing your opponents, in the early stages of the book, Cloutier gives a consistent message:
"If you're going to be successful at pot-limit or no-limit hold'em, you've gotta' be able to sit down at a table with eight or nine people that you've never played with in your life, and after ten or fifteen minutes, know how each one of them plays--whether they're aggressive; whether they're passive; how they play early position, middle position, late position. You have to get an initial line on their play." [22]

Cloutier takes playing the player to the next level:
"I might forget a person's name, but I'll never forget his face or how he plays in all situations, no matter if I've only played with him one time in my life." [22]

Differences Between Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit

Early on, the differences in limit hold'em are brought out:
"One of the main concepts in pot-limit and no-limit is that there are situations when you don't need to have a hand to win a good pot, whereas in limit hold'em, you have to show down a hand almost every time." [23]

Cloutier talks about setting up plays in pot-limit and no-limit. He explains that some of the same moves can't be made in limit and that you need to play tighter in limit.
"Of course, those types of plays are far more common in pot-limit and no-limit than they are in limit hold'em. I think that limit hold'em is a game that you have to play so much tighter than you play pot-limit and no-limit. You don't have many different moves."
"You can set up players in no-limit, but you can't set them up very often in limit." [26-27]

Obviously there are some similarities between limit and no-limit. Sklansky stresses in limit books that you don't want to be a calling station. Cloutier says the same thing about pot-limit and no-limit:
"Don't ever be a calling station in pot-limit or no-limit. But when you do call, make sure that you have a good purpose." [27]

Unfortunately Cloutier spends more time discussing pot-limit hold'em than no-limit hold'em. Nonetheless he often discusses both, even in chapter 3 which is titled "Pot-Limit Hold'em Strategy". Cloutier continually emphasizes that Limit hands are played differently from Pot-Limit and No-Limit.
"Now suppose that you are holding the A-9, the flop comes 9-5-2, you bet, and you get called.
Your hand:Ah9s
A King comes on the turn:9c5s2hKd
Should that scare your? No, not in either pot-limit or no-limit. If you were called on the flop, it probably means that somebody had something with the nine; a draw, or maybe even a pair in a rank between the fives and nines (a pair of sevens, for example). Unless a player had a K-5 or K-9, why would he have called you? And if you were holding the Q-9 (as in the second example above), you were already beaten anyway. In lmiit hold'em, that king on the turn would scare you to death, but in pot-limit and no-limit, it wouldn't." [61-62]

Like limit, pot-limit lets you play weaker, drawing hands:
"...I have always maintained that the main difference between pot-limit and no-limit tournament play is that you can play weaker hands in pot-limit than you can in no-limit." [128]

Jacks are a tricky hand to play. If things go all the way to the river then the odds are that at least one over will come on board.
"For the percentage of times that you raise before the flop, there are very few times that you are reraised in no-limit hold'em. In the first four positions, the raising hands are big pairs -- queens or better, not jacks or better -- and A-K, if you feel good about the hand." [131]

It is more difficult to punish chasers in limit and pot-limit. The more limits imposed, the less skill required to do well.
"Pot-limit has more skill to it than limit poker, but no-limit has far more skill than pot-limit." [135]

One of the strengths of the book is the emphasis on the contrast with limit.
"In California, the new players learn limit poker and most of them don't have a chance in no-limit. They learn to play hands in limit hold'em like second pair and draws, and you can get eaten alive in no-limit with that kind of play." [285]

Poker Tells

Caro talks about tells thoroughly in his book and Cloutier verifies that even the best pros in the game have tells of their own:
"We've watched all the really good players over the years--and every one of them has a tell. Even legendary players like Phil Hellmuth, John Bonetti, Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson. If you observe enough and watch them play hands for long enough, you'll find that they all have a certain tell when they have a really big hand versus just a hand. Of course, the top players don't show tells very often, but they do do it. And that's pretty true of everybody else in poker, too." [28]

One of the reasons Cloutier's book isn't great for online poker is because he focuses on tells.
"You're either born with it or you aren't. I have a knack for picking up people's tells and all the little things that they do. Caro has a book on tells, but I have my own book." [283-284]


Even if Cloutier has position on other players he doesn't like the turn bet as much as the flop bet.
"In pot-limit and no-limit when you're in late position and you're on a draw, one of the worst things that you can do is bet a draw on fourth street, with one card to come, after everybody has checked to you. You could have gotten the draw for nothing!" [81]
I don't fully agree with this strategy. The semi-bluff though better on the flop can still be used on the turn. What's the point of being on the button if you don't use that position to bet people out once in awhile? I think Cloutier correctly points out that it is dangerous but sometimes you have to be aggressive.

Like Sklansky, Cloutier continually stresses that betting or raising is usually better than calling.
"The old proverb in hold'em is, 'A bettor or a raiser be; a caller never be.' This is a very good guideline for this stage of play[last 3 tables in tourney w/ a big stack]. If you're betting a pot, you could always have the worst hand or the best hand, but you always have the chance to win because you bet. If you're calling, you have only one option: 'Maybe I have this guy beaten.'" [102]

Tournament Strategy

Unlike Sklansky who has a uniform strategy, Cloutier feels a sense of urgency as the stack shrinks. He feels a move must be made BEFORE you get short stacked.
"You always have to make your move before you get so short stacked that doubling up won't help you. This might mean moving in with virtually nothing." [105]
I understand the point Cloutier is making but I think it is sometimes better to be patient even as your stack shrinks.

Playing any ace on a 9 or 10 player table can cost you a lot of chips in the long run. However everything changes when you are head up.
"The all-powerful card in head-up play is the ace." [109]

Another difference between Sklansky and Cloutier is their overall tournament strategy. Sklansky stresses the importance of finishing in the money. Cloutier practically has an all or nothing attitude.
"I would hate to tell you how many times I have finished one out of the money because I was trying to win the tournament instead of getting into the money. At the WSOP in 1996, for example..." [110]

Cloutier points out that a sound tournament strategy can be applied to more than just hold'em. It is also revealed that at one point Phil Hellmuth was backing Cloutier. It is obvious that Cloutier and Hellmuth have a lot of respect for each other but the fact that Cloutier was backed by Hellmuth takes things to another level.
"The point is that there is a basic tournament formula or strategy, but then you have to adjust it for your own cubicle, for the way that you play your cards. For example, I never had played in a seven-card stud tournament until one year when Phil Hellmuth (who was backing me at the time) wanted me to play in a stud satellite. So, I played in the $5k satellite, won a seat in the tournament, and finished in fourth place. From then on, I had to play all the stud tournaments and went on to win a first, two seconds, two thirds, and a fourth in the first dozen tournaments that I ever played simply by adpating the tournament style of play that I had used in other events, a style that is completely different from side games." [112]

Having played in extreme environments, it seems that Cloutier has kept his fear under control in different situations.
"Of course the raise stood and he[The Big Texan] threw his hand away. He told me later that if I had hit him, he would've gone for his gun. 'Buddy,' I said, 'if I had hit you, you'd never have a chance to get that gun out.'" [116]

Having been to plenty of final tables, Cloutier is able to articulate how final table play differs from other stages of the tournament.
"Very few flops are seen at the final table; there are more non-flops than anything else. There are virtually no multiway pots, no limpers, no three-way pots. The most unusual pot came up in 1989, the year that Phil Hellmuth won it, when it was four-handed at the final table. At this key time in the tournament, two players were eliminated in a three-way pot, which is almost unheard of in World Series final action. When the pot is contested, 95 percent of the time it's head-up action." [178]

Cloutier discusses the way he used to swap pieces of himself in tournaments:
"Before I had backers, I would swap pieces of myself with other people. My wife and I figured out that I had swapped out $337k and had collected back $26k. We decided that I should stop doing that." [188]

I can see why he doesn't swap anymore after the terrible luck he had in one WSOP:
"The year that Berry Johnston won the WSOP, I was going to swap five percent of myself with five or six players. So I went to Berry and Mike Hart and they said that they would like to swap, but they couldn't make a commitment until the day of the tournament. In the meantime, I went to Johnny Chan and Chip Reese and a few of the other top players and swapped twenty-five percent of myself. The morning of the Big One, both Berry and Mike came to me and said yes, let's swap. But by then I had already swapped out twenty-five percent of myself and I turned them down. They ran one-two in the tournament! I would have gotten back over $50k on the deal." [188]

Cloutier has good things to say about some of the players we've seen on tv recently.
"Among the young crew that I rate high are Phil Hellmuth, Huck Seed, Erik Seidel and Howard Lederer. Phil Hellmuth is a wonderful tournament player, especially when he gets some chips in a tournament and when he gives other players a bit of credit. In a different way, Howard Lederer is every bit as good a player as Phil Hellmuth." [193]

Cloutier mentions some interesting play with cowboys before the flop:
"Any time that the flop is raised and reraised before it gets to you in a tournament, I suggest that you dump your two kings. Even if you are wrong once in a while, you will save a lot of money in the long run." [221]

Something that impressed me with Cloutier is his ability to get away from a hand, even KK before the flop.
"These are the types of things that road gamblers have learned; they aren't things that you pick up from reading books at home. "I can remember one time in the World Series when I had kings twice during the first two hours of the $10,000 championship tournament. Both times, I made a little raise and was reraised, and I threw the kings away before the flop. And both times, I was right:Mike Allen showed me the Aces on both hands. I knew the player and so I knew the kings weren't any good. It's very hard to lay down two kings; it's easier to play queens because you can get away from them easier than you can two kings." [286]


Observation is stressed by Cloutier throughout the book.
"Observation is very important in pot-limit hold'em, but it's even more crucial in no-limit hold'em. You see, no-limit hold'em is the only game in which you can continually win pots without a hand. In other games, you have to show down a hand to win, but you can win money in no-limit just by seizing situations. Now, you can't think that you can do this all the time or you're going to get chopped off. You have to be smart enough to pick your situations at the right time." [121]

Part of observation is keeping your eyes on your opponents, not your cards.
"I always look at my hand quickly. If you look at your hand before the action comes to you, you can never see whether anything is going on behind you. If you wait until the action gets to you to look at your hand, you will miss a lot of things. Look at your hand as soon as you get both of your cards so that you can observe the things that other players are doing when they get their cards:
-Little twitches they make when they have a hand
-Whether they slip their cards back under their chips
-Whether they are loading up, getting their chips ready to bet." [121]

Fishing is beneficial but it should be done with caution.
"Never set your sights on one player in the ring. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that, because a guy's getting way out of line, they're going to chip him off. But if you think that way, you can get caught in the middle, especially when you're playing in a full game. Shoot at one player when you're only playing one player. Don't make the mistake of saying to yourself, 'Well, I'm a better player than this guy, and he's going to make a mistake, and I'm just going to gobble him up.'" [125]

Cloutier has a lot of respect for Phil Hellmuth but he is also able to identify a weakness that Hellmuth has.
"Players like Men Nguyen, John Bonetti, and Phil Hellmuth play a big stack devastatingly effectively, but they are not as efficient in short-stack play." [145]

Whether to defend your blinds can be an important decision:
"If an aggressive player like Phil Hellmuth thinks that nobody will play back at him from the blinds, he will attack every time. But I will play back at these types of players, sometimes without a hand, and force them to be more careful about raising my blind." [175]

Throughout the book Cloutier points out that if the first 4 or 5 players don't have a hand then the last few players could have monsters.
"Can you ever play ace-small from the last two positions? Yes, if no one else has entered the pot. But you don't raise with it, you limp. As I have maintained for years, if the four or five players in front of you don't have a hand, there is a good chance that one or two of the players behind you do have one." [239]

Another nice quality about Cloutier is his ability to avoid tilt unlike Phil Hellmuth.
"No, I never steam. I might steam on the inside, but I never let other players see it. But I remember one time when Phil Hellmuth got knocked out of the Diamond Jim Brady tournament. A velvet rope was connected to two poles at each door so that people couldn't wander into the room. Phil went on a dead sprint and tried to leap over that rope, caught his foot on it, and went tumbling out into the room." [286-287]

It is refreshing to read about the experiences T.J. Cloutier has gone through. Having read through the book, I now have more respect for this poker legend.

Overall Rating: 3

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