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We’ve all sat down at the start of a tournament, or maybe after a break, and we’ve been dealt the worst kind of cards imaginable. Nothing higher than a nine (over 60% of the pack), no pairs, nothing even resembling a connector and it can make the inexperienced player lose hope. You’re card-dead.

Being card dead, that is to say being continually dealt lower-value hole-cards, is a common situation in poker. It’s often blamed for players busting tournaments, suffering a bad run or busting when they eventually see Kh-Th and go crazy with it. But there is a lot wrong with assuming being ‘Card Dead’ is to blame if you’re losing your way whenever you go through spells of not being dealt premium or above-average starting hands.

Being card-dead can be good for you!

Observe Your Opponents

One way of putting time you’re not involved in hands to good use is to get a good look at your opponents. If you’re nine-handed in a live tournament, then you can easily spend an hour watching all your enemies as they categorise themselves in front of your eyes. What are their hole-cards at showdown? How often do they bluff? These factors are crucial ones, but there are a thousand different clues that every table full of live players will give out. Try to focus more on the two players to your left (the blinds when you’re on the button) and those to your right to prepare for when your mandatory opening bet will be in the middle.

If you find yourself folding 9-2 off-suit three hands in a row, instead of getting distracted, utilise the time to keep a close eye on the people you’ll be trying to get the better of once you are back in amongst the action. You’ll be surprised at how much information gathering pays you back later.

Blind Man’s Bluff

You should be looking to steal blinds whether you’re receiving good card or not, so if the action is folded round to your seat and you have the dealer button in front of terrible cards, consider making moves on those players to your left. If you’ve been watching them carefully, you’ll know whether are likely to fold straight away to a lot of raises when they’re out of position, or whether they’ll defend.

If they are defenders, do they like to three-bet light to protect their blind? Or are they the type who call a raise light and then fold on the flop? Being specific in your research of players will give you a big edge on them, regardless of your hole-cards’ strength.

Why not put these awesome poker strategy tips to the test during today’s Powerfest events?

Abuse Your Tight Image

You may not be receiving any decent cards pre-flop, but unless you’ve got the poker-face of Ace Ventura stepping in guano, your opponents don’t need to know that. How you alter your table image in a live game of poker or online is always down to you. Especially online, your behaviour will dictate how others view you. If your opponents see you folding almost every hand for an hour, they’re going to start taking advantage of you when you’re in a worse position than them at the table, and frequently your medium holdings are going to get trampled on by three-bets.

It’s crucial that you know how you are perceived at the table and play against this image in poker. So if you’re aware that you haven’t played a hand for a while and your opponents will think you’re tight, start getting a bit imaginative. Three-betting when you’ve been seen as tight in the preceding hands can be recognised as extreme strength, so there is a good chance that you’ll not have to defend a flop you secretly fear. Also, the cards can often reward such play!

‘Fortune favours the brave’ as they say, but be careful not to over-use this trick, as others will start raising over-the-top of your recognised moves, which can cost your stack dearly.


We were once told by a hugely successful pro that one tactic for breaking the spell of being card-dead is to look down at 7-4 off-suit for the third time that orbit and imagine that you’re seeing aces. While this strategy is not a sole reason for success, how you play with strong hands and weaker ones is bound to be a big part of your relative achievement at the felt.

Representing the pre-flop nuts may be risky, but it’s also a great way to learn how to play certain hands without having the cards. Playing the person and not the cards is something we all aspire to, from seeing Mike master it in 1998’s Rounders to seeing our favourite pro bluff a legend off the best hand with fresh air on television.

As well as imaginary aces, you might want to try representing big draws or flopped sets. Watch how your opponents react as this information, even if you don’t end up winning the hand can be priceless. Imagine sitting in your seat card-dead for two hours and then finding pocket jacks…but having no idea how to play them because you haven’t had them. It can be painful to realise, but over-reliance on strong cards is a very common weakness, especially when starting out in poker. Learn your way around it by playing hands.

Play Patience

We don’t literally mean to take up a different game, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a mental break between monitoring your opponents. Perhaps you can read a training article such as this one in the fallow periods of a long tournament, peruse a poker book or browse the internet to catch up on the latest news from around the poker world. Go for a break a few minutes early or listen to music that will keep your spirits up and your energy high, ready for the hands that can change your tournament or win you your buy-in in one deal.

Re-Raise Position Players

As much as we would recommend you proceed carefully whilst doing it, learning when to re-raise opponents with junk has separated great players from good players for several years in the game. Poker has never been more aggressive, and using your tight image as we described earlier, there is a vital way you can specifically build on this ploy to put yourself up among the bigger chip-stacks once you start to receive premium cards. How often have you busted to a loose, aggressive player after re-raising on them and they wake up with aces? It happens a lot, right?

Imagine that instead of folding every orbit of card-dead deals you see, you discipline yourself to aggressively play at least two every orbit. If you’re 10-handed for example, this would mean that you’re now playing a minimum of 20% of hands – a pretty ideal VPIP incidentally. Assuming that many players at your table will be raising in late position, take advantage of this trait by re-raising them. Should they come along to call and see a flop with you heads-up, then a strong continuation-bet on the flop if you believe it doesn’t match their raising range of hands will often be enough to take down a valuable pot without showing your cards.

Remain Calm

Although we recommend a mixture of the above advice to get back into the game, maybe the biggest single piece of guidance we can give you to ease you through the pain of being card-dead is to stay relaxed. Too many players to count let running card-dead get to them and it affects their play when they do have powerful cards.

Whether it’s by getting a massage if you’re at a live table, to conducting simple arm and leg muscle stretches during down-time at 55 minutes past the hour, staying cool will bring back a heater more often than not. Being card-dead, like everything in poker, is a temporary situation, and you can master it!

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