A so-called "40% strategy" is one that is theoretically unsound "heads up" because it is less than even money, but that can work very well if it hits. An example is going "all in" heads up, on the flop, with four to a straight or flush, against a presumed pair. Your chances of beating the pair are 35% with the flush, and 32% with the straight. If you have an A- high flush, the A may give you enough extra top pair equity to raise your chances to about 40%.

David Sklansky once taught a rank beginner (the casino owner's daughter) a "40% strategy" for her first tournament. It was go all in pre-flop with all pairs, A-x suited, suited connectors down to about 7-6, and A-K offsuit. She was eliminated at the end of the second day of a three day tournament by a pair of aces, having earlier survived several confrontations of overcards versus an underpair (on both sides).

Around the turn of the centuries, "unknowns" such as Chris Moneymaker started winning the World Series of Poker and other tournaments. More established, and seasoned players accused these amateur players of using "40% strategies" and "getting lucky."

Has there, in fact, been a trend toward 40% (or other theoretically suboptimal) strategies in tournament play that allow people to "get lucky?"

  • Veeery interesting question. Can't wait to read some answers. PS: I'm not ironic May 26, 2013 at 8:42

3 Answers 3


Your "40% Strategy" label is a bit misleading. Often, aggressive strategies do well by making the opponent fold frequently. If you have a 40% hand, it's often very good to make your opponent fold!

I take it that the spirit of your question is to ask what makes such strategies work, when to employ them, and whether people often do employ them.

What makes these strategies work?

(1) Fold equity. If you can make your opponent fold often enough, it's OK to win only 40% of the time you're called.

(2) Increasing variance. If you are worse than the other guy, often it is less bad to take a risky chance for big money than to suffer the alternative, which is to let the opponent have smaller, consistent edges over you. In this way you can trade a very bad situation for a less bad one.

When should you use such a strategy?

These answers follow from the above.

(1) When the opponent is better than you, you can't quit, and you have reasonable equity.

(2) When you think the opponent might fold frequently.

Who uses such a strategy?

Many players still do, but fewer do so successfully. Poker players are less willing to fold too often than they were five to ten years ago. Many players have so much online experience that they don't worry about losing one stack or one tournament buyin.


I am currently reading a book called Kill Phil and that teaches you to shove quite a wide range of hands preflop.

The reason it works is that people will only ever call with a decent hand as they are scared to risk their tournament life with anything but the nuts. So these shoves can get through uncontested a lot of the time as people don't want to take a coin flip unless they have too!

I am about half way through the book at the moment, but its definitely an interesting read.

This book basically says go all in every hand once you get heads up. Do not allow your opponent the opportunity to pick up any chips without putting their entire stack on the line. They will then be forced to widen their calling and shoving ranges themselves in an attempt to play back at you. This is the point at which you hope they call when you have a monster :)

Not sure if this answers your question, but I believe it contributes a little towards it :)

  • 1
    I don't know who wrote that book, but that's definitely a losing strategy. One of your opponents can easily wake up with a premium hand when you shove with Q 8. And you're out. And again the next day. And the next. And the next. Pushing EVERY hand heads'up is even worse. Your opponent will just wait for a hand that gives him good equity against 1 single random hand and calls. His AJ will then beat your 9 7. May 27, 2013 at 11:51
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    @RaduMurzea I like that AJ just beats 97, you know it's like 65 to 35 right? Also kill phil is a pretty famous book in a sort of series, Kill Phil, Kill Everyone and Kill Elky. Kill Phil is a kind of out of date introductory book of strategies for beginner players to be able to play effectively against what was then the typical seasoned tournament player i.e. phil helmuth
    – hmmmm
    May 27, 2013 at 20:06
  • Exactly, its a famous book. I am only reading it as it was suggested it was best to read that before reading Kill Everyone.
    – Gaz Winter
    May 28, 2013 at 7:54

My answer is no, but if they do, they will probably fall out before ITM.

Nowadays there are no such clean winning strategies. If You play that way, your opponents will note that after a couple dozen of hands. They will easily define your shove-range, and after that, You can play with face up cards too.

There could be cases, when playing this 40% strategy could work for a while, but it depends on your opponents and the stacks of your opponents.

Preflop: Defining your loose all-in range and waiting for a high pair or something that beats you is very simple, there's no need to be a professional for this.

Flop: If You shove at every second or third flop You see, Somebody will trap you. If somebody flops the nuts, or some really strong hand, he only have to check and wait for You to go all-in. If You check too, maybe on turn or on river You will reach the 40%(or at least you think that), and the opponent will call your all-in with the nuts.

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