Super/System: A Poker Revolution

Doyle Brunson’s Super/System, published in 1979, was a groundbreaking work that dramatically impacted how poker was played and understood. While some elements have been refined over time, the core principles introduced in this book remain highly relevant.

Key Concepts of Super/System

  • Tight-Aggressive Play (TAG): Brunson championed a style focused on playing premium starting hands and betting aggressively with them. This contrasted with the loose-passive style prevalent at the time.
  • Positional Power: Super/System emphasized the advantage of acting last in a hand. Being in late position allows you to gather more information and make better decisions.
  • Opponents First: Instead of focusing solely on your own cards, Brunson emphasized reading your opponents: their betting patterns, their tendencies in various situations, and any tells they might give away.
  • Pot Odds and Implied Odds: While not invented by Brunson, his book made these concepts more mainstream, showing how to calculate profitability for calls and the potential future winnings factored into decisions.

Super/System’s Focus on Specific Games

Unlike modern strategy books that take a concept-heavy approach, Super/System was divided into chapters for popular poker variants of the era:

  • Texas Hold’em: Brunson’s tight-aggressive strategies were revolutionary for Hold’em, transforming it from a passive draw-based game to one focused on position and aggression.
  • 7-Card Stud: Analyzing starting hands, board texture, and opponent tendencies were key elements emphasized for Stud.
  • Lowball Games (Draw & Razz): The Super/System approach for these variants focused on hand strength calculations and tight play for building the best possible low hand.

Super/System’s Legacy

  • A More Aggressive Game: Super/System popularized the tight-aggressive style that’s still the foundation of winning poker. This shift forced a higher level of skill.
  • Focus on Opponent Analysis: The emphasis on reading opponents pushed players beyond just playing their own cards, making psychology and observation critical skills.
  • A Foundation, Not an End-All: While modern poker strategy has advanced considerably, Super/System’s core concepts are still invaluable.

Examples of Super/System in Action

  • Preflop Hand Selection: Only raise with strong Hold’em hands outlined in the book, instead of playing speculative hands based on gut feeling.
  • Bluffing with Semi-Bluffs: In Stud, raising with a strong draw even if you haven’t made your hand yet, applying pressure and potentially forcing folds.
  • Folding in Advantageous Spots: Disciplined folding even with decent holdings when facing significant aggression, especially out of position.

Considerations in Today’s Poker World

  • Evolved Strategies: Concepts like GTO (Game Theory Optimal) and solver-based play have added layers of complexity that go beyond the foundation laid by Super/System.
  • More Advanced Hand Charts: The starting hand recommendations in Super/System are still good, but modern charts often consider position in more detail.
  • Opponent Matters: Super/System emphasized exploiting weaker, old-school opponents. Today, against tough opponents, balancing your play is more crucial.

Protecting Yourself from Exploitation

  • Unpredictability is Key: Predictable players become easy targets. If a skilled opponent notices that you only continuation bet with strong draws, they can exploit you relentlessly. Range balancing makes them second-guess their reads on you, limiting their ability to take advantage of your tendencies.
  • Closing the Leaks: Range balancing also helps you self-diagnose. If you find you’re always folding in a given situation, it highlights a potential area for incorporating bluffs and balancing your play.

Exploiting Opponents Stuck in the Past

  • Many Recreational Players are Loose-Passive: Super/System’s tight-aggressive approach is perfectly tailored to take advantage of players who still play many weak hands and call too often.
  • Value Betting Relentlessly: Strong hands that would frequently get checked down passively get bet for maximum value with a Super/System approach.
  • Calculated Aggression: Super/System teaches you to fearlessly apply pressure with your good hands and draws, forcing opponents into tough decisions they often won’t handle well.

Building a Solid Foundation

  • Starting Hand Discipline: Even with modern charts, playing strong starting hands remains crucial. This minimizes losing scenarios early in the hand.
  • Importance of Position: Super/System hammered home the power of late position. Opening raises from late position, stealing blinds, and using your informational advantage win pots consistently.
  • Bluffing Intelligently: Bluffing recklessly is costly. Super/System encouraged selective bluffs in advantageous positions and semi-bluffing with outs for added equity, laying the groundwork for modern, nuanced bluffing strategies.

Improving Hand Reading & Adaptability

  • The Value of Observation: Super/System stressed watching opponents for patterns more than focusing solely on your own cards. This emphasis on “playing the player” is still essential.
  • Adjusting to Player Types: While not as nuanced as modern player categories, understanding that some opponents are tight, some loose, and adjusting your play accordingly is directly applicable from Super/System.
  • Pot Odds Foundation: While advanced players use implied odds much more, Super/System’s focus on pot odds forces you to think about the profitability of your decisions in more concrete terms.

Where Super/System Falls Short

It’s important to understand the limitations of Super/System’s strategies in today’s poker landscape:

  • Against Skilled Opponents: Super/System was written for a different era. Good players today know these concepts as well, forcing you to be more balanced and less predictable.
  • Strict Starting Hand Charts: Modern charts are more position-dependent, while Super/System’s were stricter. This sometimes leads to overly tight play, particularly in late positions.
  • Lack of GTO Focus: Game Theory Optimal focuses on balanced, unexploitable play. Super/System emphasized exploiting weaker opponents, which isn’t always the optimal strategy against tough competition.

How to Enhance Super/System for Modern Play

  • Adapt the Fundamentals: Use the core strategies as your foundation, but add more nuance based on opponent skill, position at the table, and your stack size.
  • Utilize Modern Charts: Supplement Super/System’s hand selections with more modern charts that consider player position.
  • Learn to Balance: In tougher games, mix in your tight-aggressive play with balanced ranges to make yourself tougher to exploit.

Super/System is still a valuable resource for players, especially those playing at lower skill levels. Its focus on fundamentals, aggression, and opponent observation lays the groundwork for evolving into a more advanced, balanced, and adaptable poker player in today’s complex games.

Final Thoughts

Doyle Brunson’s Super/System was a landmark work that revolutionized how poker was understood and played. While the specific strategies have been refined over time, the core principles of tight-aggressive play, reading opponents, and understanding pot/implied odds remain the pillars of a solid poker foundation. If you’re serious about the game, Super/System is still worth a read to appreciate its historical impact and grasp the fundamentals that still hold true today.

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