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April 2016

When Your Image Sucks!



Poker’s great when you’re running well. Your stacking chips, your confidence is high, the cards are coming as planned, your opponents are intimidated, tilted, and they’re not playing their best. The chips just roll on in, just like you dreamed they would.

Unfortunately, there’s a converse when running badly. Your confidence is low. You’re getting ground down, your opponents are the ones empowered, and your edge isn’t nearly as high, maybe it’s even negative.

How your opponents’ perceive and react to you is an issue that many players overlook. And the psychological effects it has on your game can turn a bad run into a never-ending downward spiral. You need to constantly perceive what your image is, and adjust to how your opponents’ strategies have changed.

Most opponents’ play loosens up against you when your image is poor. They’re confident and perceive you as unlucky. For that reason, your bluffs and semi-bluffs tend to lose value. However, there is a good side to a bad image; your value bets increase in worth.

So, when I first notice that my opponents are empowered by my bad luck, I play more solidly. I tighten up on my bluffs and semi-bluffs, which takes away some of the value of my implied odds. Therefore, I tighten up on my starting requirements, particularly those situations that need fold equity to justify playing. Since my fold equity is diminished, I can’t play as many hands profitably. However, because many opponents’ have loosened up on their calling requirements, I’ll value bet more liberally and slightly larger. I realize those factors aren’t congruent regarding implied odds, but if my fold equity is greatly down on my drawing hands, I weigh the value of drawing hands more toward the payoff value and reduce the fold equity value from them.

At some point, my opponents will become aware that I’ve changed my strategy. At that point I will open up my bluffs and semi-bluffs, though not in an overtly strong way. It’s, once again, adjusting to my opponents’ perception of me.

Keep track of your image. Don’t get caught up in the emotions of winning and losing and adjusting your play based on emotions. Rather, adjust your game to how your opponents are perceiving you and adjusting to that image.









To C-Bet or not to C-Bet

You raise pre-flop and get called. You whiff the flop. Or maybe you hit a small piece of it. If you c-bet, you may pick up the pot. Then again, you may not. What issues do you consider when determining whether to c-bet or not?
There are times you’re correct to c-bet, other times you’re not. It’s a situationally-dependent option. It’s right when your fold equity, the equity you pick up when you win outright plus your hand/play equity make the cost of betting +EV. That equation depends upon the texture of your opponents, the strength of your hand, the implied odds of your hand should you get called and make a hand, the odds of getting played off your hand, the number of your opponents, your position, and the board texture.
The size of the pot and the size of your bet also come into play. The bigger the reward, the smaller the risk, the higher the c-bet’s value. Obviously, the greater the chances your opponents will fold, the greater the value of your c-bet. But additional value comes from the equity of your hand. How will your hand play against their calling range? Can you hit a good card and obtain value if you’re called? Conversely, will hitting your hand likely get you in trouble? Will they bluff at you if you check? Does your hand have showdown value or can it only win with a bet? What is your opponents’ folding range equity? If you bet and get them to fold a situation in which they have little equity, then you haven’t gained much.
What are the odds you will get raised and be forced to fold? If you’re out of position, they’ll likely bet anyway. But if you’re last to act, c-bet your hand, and get check-raised off it, you’ve lost your hands equity. If you checked, you’d get a free card, one that hopefully adds value. So, be more careful when c-betting check-raising prone opponents’.
Yes, that’s a lot to think about! And it’s just the basics. Reread and think through how each question effects the value of your c-bet. Understand those concepts, and apply the logic to your c-betting decisions.
Another factor for c-betting is the number of opponents, the greater, the more likely that you’ll be called.
Your position is crucial. When out of position, you’re forced to base your c-bet decision with less information than in position. Furthermore, opponents are more likely to call your bet with weaker hands when in position.
Some boards hit your opponent’s range better than others. Additionally, some boards cause your opponents’ to read you for a stronger hand. The texture of the board, how wide a range of hands it hits, and how your opponent’s will perceive how the board hits your range all affect the value of your c-bet. In short, the less likely the board hits their range and the more likely they think it hits your range, the stronger the value of your c-bet.
It’s a lot to think about, and it’s only the basic concepts. But the more accurately you weigh your c-betting decisions, the greater overall EV you’ll obtain. These c-betting situations come up constantly when you play NL, making it important that you get this right.
So, take the time and make the effort to fine tune your c-betting, it will make a big difference in your results!

The Value of Blocking Cards

In limit poker, I often play JTs, J9s, T9s, 98s texture of hands as deception hands, playing them aggressively. I only do so in spots where my value of aggression is high. My doing this makes me harder to read pre-flop and I feel I can accomplish that with sacrificing any edge if I pick my spots correctly.
My reasoning being is that if I connect with the flop, my opponents will think I might have an AK texture of hand that missed, thereby providing me with good action. And if bigger cards come, I can reasonably represent them. Thereby, utilizing those hands effectively makes me harder to read at minimal, if any cost.
But, in NL, when the big bets come out, your solid opponents are likely to call/raise only with a very narrow range. In situations where you hold cards that reduce the likelihood of your opponents possessing holdings in their calling/raising range, your fold equity will be greater and provide greater value to your aggressive plays.
Let’s say you hold the Ad5d. The fact that you hold an ace reduces your opponents’ chances of holding AA by 50%, and AK or AQ by 25%. Additionally, with the Ace, the diamonds, the straight and multiple fives possibilities, you’re only about a 2-1 underdog racing 66-KK. In other words, the fact you hold the Ad significantly reduces the chances that your opponent holds a hand with which he will jam, and it gives you reasonable equity against non-AA pairs should they call.
All this makes hands like Ad5d a superior 3-bet, 4-bet, and jamming hand than hands like JdTd when you’re in a scenario in which you think your fold equity plus your hands equity is profitable. With this texture of hand, you’ll get called less, and suck out more often when called.
And, the “card removal” or “blockers” concept has additional applications. If you hold the Ace of a suit and 3 of that suit hit the board, you’ve removed many of the potential flush combinations from your opponents’ range. It’s much less likely someone has a flush. The fact there are fewer flush combinations, might turn some plays from unprofitable to profitable. Another example is you should tend to be more aggressive with undersets than topsets. Since, when you hold topset you block a great deal of your opponents’ top pair calling range, you’re more likely to get called with second set than top set.
I do understand there are many other factors in determining if a play is the optimum play, but many players dismiss the value of the card removal effect of their holding on their opponents’ ranges. You should include any card removal effect of your opponents’ range into weighting your decisions.
So, use your knowledge of your cards, and any others you might have seen, to improve your read of your opponents’ range. Then, adjust your strategies to their adapted range.
Do it right and you’ll find extra EV in numerous circumstances.

Designing a Thought Train!

Detecting and exploiting weaknesses in your opponents’ play is where the money is made. It’s why set strategies aren’t optimum, and the best players are very good people/hand readers. Accurately defining what your opponents think and how they react emotionally to differing circumstances will allow you to design positive expectation plays that aren’t available to your less intuitive opponents.

Many players approach this issue by trying to remember what their opponents played in any given circumstances. That’s cumbersome and inefficient. I approach this from a different perspective. I contemplate how my opponents thought to arrive at their conclusions. With some players their strategies are drawn from logical conclusions; with others, their play is defined by their emotional reactions.

My reasons are that it’s both easier and more definitive to define the situation by deciphering their thought process. Trying to memorize all the factors of a given situation is just too much for my poor little brain. I’d rather utilize that available “disk space” for other poker components and keep my thought process as simple as possible. Once you can accurately define how your opponents think, you’ll be able to effectively read their ranges. And when you can do that, you’ll own them at the poker table!

I use my own thought process as a baseline for how others think. Do they play suited connectors differently than I? How so? Do they continuation bet more than I? How can I exploit that? By using my own knowledge level as my guideline, I don’t have to memorize another guideline. I already know how I play; I only have to note when opponents do something differently than I would. There’s less processing, less memorization, a less stressed and more consistent method of thinking. Winning at poker is hard enough, without complicating things more than you have to!

Poker is an intellectual game. Training your brain to focus efficiently and maximizing your intellectual resources will expand your awareness and knowledge. Compartmentalize, utilize and habituate flowcharting routines. Free up your mental processing, and recall as much as you can without sacrificing your processing of the available data.
You’ll be way more consistent, make the game much less mentally demanding, and get significantly less mentally fatigued.

And most importantly, you’ll win more money!

Inducing Bets and Gaining Value

Sometimes there is more value in checking a good hand than betting it. This occurs when you think an opponent will bet a wider range than he will call with. This concept comes into play often when you have a pre-flop caller behind you and you continuation bet with a strong hand.

Say you raise in late position pre-flop with AsKh and are called by an aggressive player on the button. Heads-up, the flop comes Ah-Tc-4s. You continuation bet as you have done with most of your pre-flop raises. The button calls. You believe his calling range that you beat is any ace, any gutter, or any ten. He also might slowplay AT, A4s or 44 that beat you. The turn is the 8d. Add A8s and maybe T8s to the hands that beat you. If you bet again, he’ll fold all his tens and gutters and maybe even some of his weaker aces. However, if you check, he’ll bet all of his range thinking that you’re weak and would have automatically continuation bet the flop with any ace on board. And he’d think you would fold to a wager; hence his bet.

Yes, you assume some risk he will make a better hand. And it might make you more liable to pay off his big hands since you will read him as reading you as weak. But, you’ll get more value out of his weak hands when he bets the turn. And the value of those bets obtained from his weak hands are equity-rich. Additionally, you create the impression that, when you continuation bet the flop and check the turn, it doesn’t always mean that you are weak and folding to a bet. With many opponents, in this type of situations, when you check, they auto-bet knowing they will get a lot of folds. You want to stop that kind of opponent from calling you with a wide range in position and picking up pots from you on the turn. Inducing bets takes away some of that play’s value.

This same concept can be utilized with position. Checking a hand, even a very big one, when you think your opponent is unlikely to call, but is prone to bluff the turn or river if you check, often adds value to your holding. That said, make sure your opponent is likely to bet, otherwise, you’re just giving him a free card to outdraw you.

Think about your opponent’s calling range on prior streets. How will he play it if you bet? If you check? Which option will give you the higher EV?

You’ll be amazed at how much better value you will obtain!

Stack Sizes and Playing Hands

How and what to play in NL is hugely dependent on your own and your opponents’ stack sizes. The greater the amount you may possibly win, and the odds for you to win it, the more risk you can take. Of course, you have to correctly evaluate when the risk assumption is favorable.

Florida used to maximize NL buy-ins to $100, even in $2-$5 and $5-$10 games. With $100 effective stack sizes in many pots, the value of big-pairs and A-broadway hands went up significantly. Since all the money would often go in pre-flop or on the flop, these hands received great returns with their high propensity to win, and the denial of high implied odds to opponents.

But if you increased the buy-ins in a $2-$5 game to $1,000, the factors get much trickier for the big pair and big card hands. While those hands tend to have big pre-flop edges, when stacks are deep, big-pairs and big-A-high hands often find themselves with one pair on the turn and river facing large bets. As a consequence, that can get mighty problematic. You’ll likely fold some winners and call with some losers for big money. In deepstack situations, big one-pair hands tend to win many small pots and lose a few very big ones.

So, in small effective stack size situations, stick to big pairs and big cards. In short-stack situations, generally get your money in early when your edge with your big hands is at its highest. As the stacks get deeper, you can widen your calling range pre-flop and on the flop since your implied odds have escalated. That said, don’t start playing overly loose just because the stacks are large.

Think about the odds of being able to acquire big bets in the current situation if you make a big hand. If the propensity is great, loosen up; if not don’t!

Understand and consider how the effective stack sizes will play. Then adjust your play to that information.

Your bankroll will appreciate it!

Over-Betting to Fold them Out!

As children we were taught that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you played the game. Of course, all we kids knew that was total BS! Winning was great, and losing sucked. But in poker it REALLY isn’t important whether you win or lose. It IS how you play the game. And if you realized the highest EV possible.

Anytime an opponent calls a bet without receiving the correct implied odds, he has committed an error, and you gain EV. Anytime an opponent folds when he would have been receiving the correct implied odds to call, he has committed an error and you gain EV.

In limit your bet-sizing is fixed. And in many cases, your bets will perform better when your opponents’ fold. But in NL you can size your wagers to any amount. This permits you to determine your opponents’ range and bet an amount that your opponent(s) are incorrect to call. The optimum size to wager would be the largest incorrect amount that your opponent will call. Of course, that’s a difficult determination to make accurately. That said, you should understand that concept, and make a good faith estimate of the correct bet-size every time you wager.

For that same reason, over-betting strictly to create a fold is a non-optimum play. Yeah, it might win you a pot that you otherwise might have gotten sucked out on, but you’ve cost yourself the +EV that a called bet would have gained you. And that’s not optimum. That said, if an opponent won’t call a –EV bet, you’ll generally do better betting and having him fold rather than giving him a free or +EV card.

Over-betting is a common error with novice players who quantify success in poker in the conceptual terms of winning or losing. But that isn’t how poker works. You win at poker by grinding out multiple positive EV bets over the course of time. And you should expect to lose frequently when cards don’t run your way.

So, don’t over-bet because you’re afraid of playing the hand out and want to ensure a current victory. Size your bet to maximize your EV, not your win-loss percentage.

And if you size them right, you’ll win more money over the course of time, even if you lose more hands!

Identifying Opponents’ River Calling Ranges

It’s not good enough to be a favorite to have the best hand when determining whether to bet on the river or not, you must be a favorite when you are called. And it’s best to size your bet to an amount that gives you the best EV possible.

In some situations your opponent is inelastic. In other words it doesn’t matter how much you bet; he’s either calling or he’s not. But in most NL situations our bet-sizing generally determines our opponent’s calling range. And varying bet-sizes have varying degrees of EV.

The expectation from your value-bet is the percentage that you are called and win times your bet size, minus the percentage that you are called (and/or check-raised and fold) and lose times your bet size. For example: If you wager $100 with a 25% chance to acquire a fold from hands that you would beat if you checked, a 50% chance of winning if called, and a 25% chance of losing, your EV on the bet is +$25 ($50-$25). If in the same situation you made a larger wager of $200, but got called less frequently, your EV would be different. For example: Say your opponent now folds 40% of the hands that you would beat if you checked, and calls only 35% of the time you have the best hand. Now your EV is only +$20 ($70-$50). Your larger bet has increased your swings and lowered your expectation because you’ve reduced his calling frequency.

Of course, accurately estimating all this in the heat of battle is tough even for highly experienced players. You must estimate your opponent’s calling range and determine how your hand relates to that range. If, last to act on the river, your hand beats 55% of that calling range, you should generally bet. If it’s 45%, you should generally check.

Yes, I purposely simplified the problem. Real world poker equations are typically more complex with more factors such as check-raising, bluffing, image issues, positional considerations, etc. But you need to understand this basic concept from which to grow your thought process. Before value betting, think about how your hand plays against his calling range rather than just contemplating if you have the best hand or not.

Do it correctly, and you’ll get way more value out of your value-bets.

Play Well and Good Luck

Optimizing River Value

It’s important to get maximum value out of your hands, even the marginal ones. Too many players miss value, particularly in river betting situations with mediocre holdings that will often get called my weaker hands. The EV from those thin value bets adds up significantly over time. Novice players continuously miss them; great players tenaciously get their lion’s share.

Value betting marginal hands is extremely situational and opponent-dependent. For river bets you must have a hand that is a favorite when called. Ascertaining that is often difficult. What is your opponent’s calling range? How does that calling range vary by the size of your bet? What bet size does it take to get your opponent to call with a large enough range of hands so that his call is –EV? If you conclude that there is a size, is there a larger size that will be called less frequently that will create higher EV?

All of those questions vary greatly depending upon your opponent. What is your opponent’s mood? Is he ripe to call wide? Or is he a tight caller? How does he react to thin bets? Is he likely to read you as weak? If so, betting small may trigger a raise-bluff? If you check, are you likely to induce your opponent to bluff a worse hand that you intend to call?

You need to weigh all these issues and draw a conclusion. Is there value in betting? And if so, how much is the optimum amount to bet? Is there more value in checking?

Don’t just leave money on the table by auto-checking your marginal hands on the river. Think through the scenario and determine your best course of action. It will pay dividends!

I understand there are a lot of questions to answer. This article is meant as an overview of what the questions are. In future tips, I’ll delve further into how to resolve them.

Play well and best of luck!

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