Hey High Rolllers, just trasncribed one of our favourite interviews from the archives (2012, just before the WSOP). He was one of our first guests, WPT superstar Jonathan Little, an author, coach, two-time winner on the World Poker Tour and WPT ‘Player of the Year.’ The guy is great!
We have transcribed the interview and it was worth the time and effort. Little is one of the best poker instructors in the world and one of the most successful players. He’s won more than $8 million playing cards folks.
Two-time WPT Champion
Jonathan Little Interview Notes
Q: The WSOP is fast approaching. You know, if this were a marathon runners would be out jogging, stretching, gearing up and getting their bodies ready. Is it like that for you, a poker player? How do you prepare for this poker extravaganza?
JL: Well, it’s kind of similar too that. I’ve been studying a lot of poker. I’ve been playing online more recently trying to get ready. I just got set-up to play online poker in Canada and that went pretty well. Before the World Series each year, I like to take a week off and that’s exactly what I’m doing this year. One of my friends is getting married, so I’m gonna go to that and then go play the WSOP.
Q: What is that week off about? Is it about relaxation to get your mind right? I know it’s a long haul.
JL: I know I’m gonna be out there the entire time, playing poker 12 hours a day, everyday, for the duration of the series, so I always make a point to take some time off before and then take some time off afterward. Otherwise you burn out. You can’t afford to burn out. You realize, ‘okay, I’m gonna take it easy before, so I’m ready to work.’ Then after I’m done, I know I’m going to take it easy again, so I can go out there and put in a solid two months of good work.
Q: This is your profession obviously, but for amateurs who don’t play the amount you do, can you describe for them what that 12-hour work day over two months can do to your body and mind? What toll does it take?
JL: Well, I think it does whatever you let it do to you. I think I’ve gotten to the point now where I know what to expect. I’m gonna go out there and do my thing and be perfectly happy with it. You see a lot of players who go out there who aren’t mentally prepared. They go out partying all night and then try to play poker the next day. They don’t go to the gym, they don’t eat right and they end up being pretty exhausted, basically worn out and tired of the game by the end of it. If you go in there with an open mind and you’re ready to observe everything that’s going on and you want to be there, then you can go into it happy and leave happy. That’s what I do. I try to prepare myself to want to be there and that’s why I don’t play that much poker before, because if I don’t play poker for a week or two I want to go and play poker. I think it’s all mental. If you make a point to stay in shape physically then you can go out there mentally sound and not have too much of a problem.
Q: You haven’t won a bracelet yet. You’ve come close and had success at the WSOP but certainly not the same success you’ve had on the WPT. What is your plan this year in Vegas?
JL: I’m just gonna do the same thing I did last year. I’m gonna play a lot of tournaments, basically one tournament a day, whatever is running. I’m gonna stick to No Limit Hold’em, Limit Hold’em and PLO, those are my best games. Basically, play a tournament a day. I don’t have a schedule where I’m gonna play Event #2 or Event #7, or anything like that, I just show up the day of and play whatever is running.
Q: Before we talk about your new book, let’s revisit the Mirage Poker Showdown, a million dollar score for you. Phil Ivey was at that final table. What are your thoughts on him and his play?
JL: I think he play’s very good. He’s widely regarded as one the best and I think he is. I mean, he’s tough to play against. He definitely applies pressure. I’ve kinda figured out that every time he re-raises, you just need to go all-in and you’re probably going to win most of the time. That was strategy way back then.
Q: Is that a pattern you’ve recognized in his game? He’s re-raising a lot.
JL: It’s the strategy you notice in a lot of good players. People who are being very aggressive, the way to fix that is to just go all-in and make them fold.
Q: And they just stop bullying you?
JL: Well, either they do or they don’t. Sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, you can just run them over by going all-in but, theory-wise, that’s a high risk game and you are going to go broke often.
Q: This has been a big week in poker; Ivey versus Crockford’s, Russ Hamilton versus the world, Phil Hellmuth releases an official statement on the UltimateBet cheating scandal, there’s talk of increased security at this year’s WSOP. Do you get wrapped up in these stories?
JL: I think some people get wrapped in them and some people don’t. I mean, can Phil Ivey read the back of cards at the casino? I don’t really care, it’s none of my business. The Russ Hamilton thing? I think if people get caught cheating we should put them in jail, that seems pretty obvious. More security at the WSOP? If they want more security, that’s fine with me as long as it does’t slow down everything. No, I don’t get wrapped up in too many things. I just sit back, observe and make adjustments where I think necessary.
Q: Tell us about your new book, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker Volume III?
JL: Well, Volume I & II were basically a guide on how I play poker. They were meant to be read as one giant book, where I talk about how to play a solid fundamental game in Volume I and then about how to deviate from that, and also how to live the poker life, in Volume II. Volume III is completely different than those two books. It’s basically 150 poker hand quizzes, where I go through hands I played in the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tournament main event and a $1,500 buy-in and a $2,500 buy-in at the World Series of Poker. So, I have a deep stack, shallow stack and medium stack tournament in the book, that way you can get a pretty good idea of how I play tournaments with the varying stack sizes.
Q: So basically, you’re giving them hand descriptions and then asking them questions?
JL: Right. So, I lay out a hand; what happens pre-flop and everybody’s stacks sizes, because obviously that’s important. So, you’re in middle position with AK pre flop, what do you do? Then, I’ll lay out four options; limp raise, a two big blinds raise, a three big blinds raise or go all-in? The player will ideally write that in the book what they did, then I’ll go on to the next question. After you’re done with all the questions in the hand, I’ll go through all the possible answers, basically grade the student, let them know what I thought of each play and let them know why I thought a particular play is better or worse than the other plays. I use a point system so students can tell which play I think is the best or the second best. You’ll find in No Limit Hold’em, as long as you’re picking the first or the second best play it’s probably not that bad. But, if you’re picking the 3rd, 4th, or 5th best play it’s probably bad.
Q: That’s important to note, on any given hand there are a few of ways to play it?
JL: Right. there are many ways to play a hand and I recognize that. I think a lot of poker players try to say they have a definitively right answer for every situation but that’s not how poker works. You can go either way a lot of the times. And, if ‘Play A’ is slightly better than ‘Play B’, it’s gonna add value to mix things up to make your play more profitable.
Q: Did you find yourself writing more about the hands you played well or the hands you played bad?
JL: I basically include every hand I played. So, if I raised pre flop and there was any additional action, if someone re-raised me or if someone called me and took a flop. You know, I’m including basically every hand. I didn’t win the tournament so obviously there are hands I lost in there. Whenever I play poker, I carry a notebook with me and write down every hand I play. I use that for myself, to go back and review my play and make sure I’m not doing anything dumb. When I play, I tend to forget what’s going on. I’m super in the zone and have no clue what’s going on, if that makes any sense. If I look at it afterward, I have no clue what happened throughout the whole day. Even though I’m sitting there completely with it, if you ask me how I got my chips I have no clue. So, I started writing down all my hands and I go back through them. Maybe once every three or four tournaments I do something that is really dumb and I have to figure out why and fix it.
Q: So the writing helps you, I mean you obviously like it?
JL: I think it’s an extension of coaching in general. I found that when I started coaching people more, I started to think about the game in other ways. I think that’s made me a better poker player in general because it makes me think about everything I’m doing and to figure out if it’s actually good or if it’s something I do because I think I should be doing it. If you’re just doing something because you think you should be doing it, it’s not necessarily correct. I feel like writing, and writing down my general game plan, has made me think about my game and challenge the way I think about poker. You know, some of the things I do may not be accurate. Writing it down and thinking about it has certainly helped me flush things out and figure out whether they are good or bad.
Q: Tonight you’re teaching a class on holding top pair?
JL: Yes, I think it’s something people mess up frequently. I have a lot more of these classes where I go into specific concepts. People seem to like them a lot. I’m always trying to find new and innovative ways to discuss the game, and give the people who follow me information in the most clean and easy to digest way.
Q: Can you give us a sneak peak on how to play top pair?
JL: Unfortunately, I have a two-hour class lined up for it, so its hard for me to discuss. Essentially, you have to figure out what hand your opponent is likely to have A lot of those hands have you beat and you have to play it like a bluff catcher. Many of those hands are unlikely to have you beat, so you have to play it for value. It’s really thinking about the range of hands your opponent has and then playing your hand accordingly.
Q: Your website is FloatTheTurn.com. Do people need to be floating the turn more often?
JL: No, you don’t need to be floating the turn that much unless you know your opponent bets the flop, then bets the turn and then gives up a lot of rivers. I mean, I float the flop a lot. Someone bets the flop and you call with all sorts of stuff, planning to take t away on the turn either by betting when they check of by raising when they bet. But no, floating the turn is usually not the good because when players fire that second barrel they usually have it.
Q: Anyone to look out for at the year’s WSOP?
JL: Poker is a funny thing because it seems like players go on swings where they run really hot for a while and then run really bad for a while. It’s some kind of weird confidence issue where people trust their reads a little more often when they’re doing well. A good player who has good reads, is trusting those reads or anyone who has a good work ethic and realizes they’re not going to the World Series to party, they’re going there to make money. That’s someone to look out for.
Jonathan Little thank-you!
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