Poker Tournament Starting Hands Guide From Harrington On Holdem
- Do These Starting Hands Work Online?
In ‘Harrington On Holdem Vol 1’ Dan Harrington outlined a tournament starting hands guide based on table position and your poker playing style. There are actually 3 styles covered: Conservative play, aggressive or LAG play and ‘super aggressive’ play. Since the latter style has no requirements this article will focus on the first 2.
The question this article will discuss is whether the starting hands mentioned are suitable for the lower level ($3 to $50) MTTs most commonly found online.
We will start by outlining Harrington’s Starting Hand Guide for poker tournaments and then look at the various stages of online poker tournament strategy to see how they fit.
Harrington's Tournament Starting Hands Guide – Conservative Approach
Early Position (first 2 players to act): Pairs 10-10 to A-A , A-K off-suit and A-Q suited.
Middle Position (places 3-6 to act): Pairs 8-8+, A-J off suit or better + K-Q
Late Position (Button and Cut-Off): Pairs 7-7+, Any Ace + Suited Connectors J-10+
Dan Harrington’s suggestion for the conservative player is that these hands should be raised when no other player has already entered the pot. Where a player acting before you has already raised you need a hand from a higher group, compared to your position, in order to call. For example, if you are in middle position and someone has raised ahead of you then you need an ‘early position’ hand to call this bet.
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Harrington's Tournament Starting Hands Guide – Aggressive Approach
Hand Requirements To Raise: Any Pair, Any Ace, Any 2 Face-Cards + Suited Connectors 4-5 and higher.
Notice that there are no specific requirements for position here. The idea being that an aggressive player will raise to open a pot with these hands from any position. If someone has already raised then the requirements must tighten up. Harrington deals with this situation via numerous hand examples – you’ll need to read the book!
Stages Of An Online Poker Tournament – Harrington’s Starting Hands Analyzed
Conservative Approach – Early Stages
The advantage to the conservative approach in the early stages is that it will keep players out of trouble at a time when there are many wild, loose and otherwise inexperienced opponents at the table. While the criteria mean you’ll be throwing away hands which may be favorite for a single raise – those times you do enter a pot you’ll generally be a solid favorite to win.
Conservative Approach – Mid to Late Stages
Once the blinds start to rise as a proportion of your stack the need to accumulate chips increases. At this point the conservative starting hands start to become too tight. Imagine you have a pair of 9’s in mid position and a wildly aggressive player makes a small raise ahead of you – or you have 6-6 and the table folds to you on the button with only the extra-tight blinds to act. There are so many factors involved, including stack sizes and tendencies of opponents, that strict guidelines here would reduce your flexibility too much.
Conservative Approach – Final Table
If the conservative approach is too tight for the mid stages, by the time you reach the final table these poker tournament starting hands would be a disaster. The stacks will be shallow by now, meaning that stealing and re-stealing become significant factors. These hands will most probably only result in you blinding your way out of the tournament.
Aggressive Approach – Early Stages
Opening a large number of pots in the early stages will require significant post-flop skills. The reason is that you will be called by a variety of players – each with a wide variety of holdings. This is great if you flop a monster hand. However the times that you miss – or partially hit the flop – will create many potentially dangerous situations.
Aggressive Approach – Middle Stages
As the stacks become shallower compared to the blinds, the merits of the aggressive approach to tournament starting hand selection increase. You will be able to steal many pots – especially from late position. Caution when opponents have already raised ahead of you will make this approach even more effective.
Aggressive Approach – Final Table
At the final table an aggressive approach may well be your best chance of securing one of the (higher paying) top 3 places. Many opponents will have tightened up their own starting hand requirements here – looking to move up in the money. Selecting a wide variety of starting hands will allow you to win many pots without a fight. The stack sizes could also be factored into your hand selection here, raising ‘lighter’ when the blinds are not too big stacked or too short.
Dan Harrington’s Tournament Starting Hands Guide – Summary + Further Reading
The conservative approach to starting hand selection appears good for keeping out of trouble during the wild and loose early stages. However later in the tournament more aggression is required – both to stay ahead of the blinds and to win pots. If you have a skill edge over your opponents then it makes sense to choose a site where the blinds increase in smaller increments - giving you more time to exploit your opponent's mistakes before the game becomes a 'crap shoot'.
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To be fair Harrington covered this increase in aggression with his theory of inflection points and ‘M’ scores. The key with any starting hand guide is to allow your self the flexibility to step outside of this when the situation at the table warrants this. Finally, for a guide to the best online poker tournaments for beginners check out our detailed look at 10 of the best: Best Beginner Poker Tournaments – 10 of the best!