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July 2016

As the Poker Table Turns

Things change! At the poker table they can change abruptly. A loose-aggressive player goes broke and is replaced by a solid pro. A normally solid player beserko tilts after losing a big pot. You’ve nurtured a tight, nitty image for hours, but you just got caught bluffing. The texture of the game and/or your opponents’ perception of your table image has just changed dramatically and with it, the value of many plays.

You need to consistently monitor and adjust to these changes. If you don’t, you’re likely to make plays incongruent with your image or the table’s texture. And that ain’t likely to go well!

Keep track of how things progress at the table. Did a nine-handed game just become a six-handed game? Did a big pot just get played? How will it emotionally affect the participants? Did a stuck player just get even? Did a winning player just blow back his win? Did a player with an aggressive mentality just acquire a big stack? Did you suck out on a vindictive opponent? Did someone just call a big bet with a weak hand and get shown the nuts? If so, how is this likely to change their play?

Poker players are human beings (Yeah, I know some aren’t). All of these matters effect emotions and play. Someone who just called a big bet with a marginal hand and lost is less likely to want to call in the same spot again. The aggressive player with the big stack is likely to get even more aggressive. The player who just got even is likely to play more solidly and not risk his stack. A winning player who is about to leave is less likely to assume risks. The converse is true for a player who is stuck and leaving. The questions and methods to exploit them are endless.

And these issues aren’t just important in how they directly relate to you; they’re important in how they relate to the other players at the table. If one player is vindictive towards another, will situations present themselves that you can exploit? You bet they will!
So pay attention to the ebbs and flows of the game. Think about how you can exploit them. Think about how your opponents think and how it changes with events. And devise tactics to exploit their thoughts and emotions.

You’ll be amazed how much extra equity you’ll be able to find!


Deep Stack vs. Small Stack


Size matters! And it matters a lot! Your stack size designates the strategies you should use. And since you can control your stack size via buy-in amount, you can create game play situations that correspond to your strengths and evade your weaknesses.

Having a small stack tends to limit the number of streets you must make decisions on. Additionally, your decisions are apt to be for lesser amounts, making your decisions less critical. With a small stack you can play tightly pre-flop and have easier post-flop decisions. The largest component of your decisions will be assessing your hand’s value. Assessing your implied odds is not much of a factor. And hand reading, a tough element of poker, takes on much lower importance.

Among other things, playing a deep stack requires being able to read your deep-stacked opponents’ hands, estimate the implied odds that the deep stacks create, and have the internal fortitude to act on your evaluation. The nature of deep stack no-limit hold’em that causes pots to grow exponentially street by street means these decisions are often for big money, making the accuracy of your decision MUCH more critical. All this makes for MUCH more complicated equations.

Most novice players aren’t proficient at reading hands and situations. That correlates to being unable to accurately assess their implied odds. For them, buying-in short amounts, playing a tight hand selection strategy, and picking spots to play post-flop will be the best strategy. They won’t win as much as their skilled deep-stacked opponents, but they don’t have the skillsets to compete with them. And you must understand your limitations in both poker and life.

If you think your strategic decisions will be better than your opponents, play deep. You’ll both read and create positive implied odds situations for yourself. Your big bets, both made and called, will be favored to have an edge over your opponents’. Plus, the threat of your large stack will increase your fold equity as players will be less inclined to call your bets when you have a large stack left.

Another component of this equation is your ability to handle swings. If you’re prone to get emotional when stuck, buying in deep may not be the best strategy. Yeah, you can circumvent this by not rebuying, but there is a cost to that too.

Often, you’re not sure how your opponents play. This is particularly true when you are playing in a new location. Generally, the best play is to buy-in short and chip up if you like what you see. Keep in mind, it’s the deep stacks you want to base your decision on since you are already equivalent with the short stacks.

How deep you buy-in is an important decision. Realistically appraise the situation. Then determine your best buy-in strategy.

Then follow the correct game strategy based on your buy-in.  


Shut Up!

Recently, I played in a live WSOP $2-5 game mixed with young pros and weak recreational players. After every hand the pros all swapped strategies about the potential ranges of their opponents and what was the best play. In doing so, they openly criticized their recreational opponents’ play.

The pros were very well studied and knowledgeable. Some of the recreational players seemed astonished at the depth of thought. It was at a level they’d never heard before. Some left, some were made uncomfortable and tightened up. One thing for sure, the pros’ edge had been dramatically reduced by all the strategy conversation.

I see this type of behavior all the time. People want to show how smart they are, belittle their opponent’s, and play big shot. It’s bad etiquette and among the worst poker plays. It costs both you and other serious players big money. It educates your opponents on strategy, informs your opponents how you think and focuses their minds on strategy.

Yeah, I’m the wrong guy to say this. I publish articles about poker strategy all the time. But I’m no longer playing for a living, and I avoid strategy discussions at the table.  These pros must have worked hard to develop an edge and then diminish it so stupidly. Pointing out strategies and mistakes to your opponent’s is just stupid, particularly at the table.

Players need to control the discussion. Point out to unaware players that their discussion is hurting the game. Move the conversation onto other topics. Keep the focus off poker strategy.

Do the smart thing. Shut up, and do your best to prevent others from damaging your edge.




Odds Are, You Need to Know This!

Pot odds, implied odds, your odds, their odds, cards to come odds.…It all gets so damn confusing. And if you want to be a world-beater at the poker table, there’s much to know. But if you just want to beat on some recreational players, knowing the mathematical basics will take you a long way.

You should always be aware of how much is in the pot so you can easily calculate your current odds. And you should also estimate what you think your hand is worth.

How is the hand likely to play out? What are the differing plausible scenarios? Be aware of any actions that may take place behind you. Closing the action is far superior to having three players to act behind you whose actions may affect your price.  What is the blended value of all the possible scenarios? Yeah, it’s always an estimate. But the more you think this way, the better your estimates will become, making for crisper decisions.

Always understand that your bet is offering your opponent odds. If you raise a small amount with a big wired pair and both you and your opponent have large stacks, and you’re probably paying off if you’re beat, think about the implied odds you are currently offering your opponent. If the implied odds number is high, you may well want to bet more. Yes, I understand there are many other issues, but this is about odds.

Close enough is good enough in poker. For ease of calculation, I use rough justice numbers. You have about 2% per win per card or 4% for two cards coming. So if you have 8 wins with one card to come, you have about a 16% chance to hit. With two cards to come it’s about 32%.  Keep in mind that you may face bets on all streets, and you can’t always assume improving translates into winning.

Discounting straights and flushes, if you hold AK, or any other unpaired cards, you will flop a pair or better about 1/3rd of the time. Running AK out (5 cards) against QQ is about a 45%-55% proposition. If you hold a wired pair, you will flop a set about 12% of the time or 7 1/2-1. Are the implied odds right to draw to your pair pre-flop? Keep in mind you don’t always win and don’t always stack your opponent when you do. If you do flop a set, you will make a full-house or better about 1/3rd of the time. If you hold two suited cards, you will flop a flush less than 1% of the time and a four-flush about 11% of the time. If you hold two unpaired cards, you will flop two-pair about 2% of the time.

Additionally, you can use math to assist in reading your opponent’s ranges. There are 6 combinations of any pair, 16 of any unpaired hand of which 4 are suited. So, if an opponent’s range is AA, KK, QQ or AK…There are 6 combinations each of AA-KK-QQ and 16 of AK. Therefore, that opponent’s range has 18 pairs and 16 AK’s. So if you hold TT, you are an underdog to be good right now and not much of a favorite when your opponent holds AK. That equates to a blended large negative EV with TT against that range.

If an opponent would play J9s in a given position, but not J9o, then his range has the potential for 4 combinations of J9. Adjust a player’s range by the cards that come on the flop or any in your hand. If an A is removed, there are only 12 combinations of AK available. If you hold the Ah5h then the chances of AA being in your opponent’s range is reduced by 50% (3 combos) and AK is reduced by 25% (12 combos).

These are the basics, rough justice style. Get to know them, apply them to your thought process, they are your friend. And when you can utilize them correctly, you’ll be getting your money in with the best of it!




Let Them Bluff


You open with AA and are called by an aggressive opponent. The flop comes the Jd-9c-8d. You fire, and he calls. The turn is the 3c, you fire again, and he calls. The river comes the 4h. Should you bet again?

When you’re heads-up on draw-heavy boards against aggressive opponents, you’ve bet, and the draws missed, and your opponents’ calling range on the flop/turn included many draws, don’t value bet the river out of position.

Since he can’t call with his missed draw hands, and the ratio of drawing hands to calling hands in his range is weighted toward the missed drawing hands, give him an opportunity to bluff his whiffed draws. The more aggressive and bluff-happy your opponent is, the greater the strength of the play. The more passive, call prone, and bluff adverse your opponent, the more you should be inclined to value-bet.

Conceptually: When the overall value you will lose from the hands he would check that he would have called a river bet with and you would have won, is less than the overall value of the bets he will bluff and you will call with, you should check and call. Simply put, you should check and call when you gain more from inducing bluffs than you lose by not value betting.

I understand this is often hard to calculate at the table. Because this situation occurs frequently, this knowledge has significant value. It’s not uncommon for aggressive opponents to bet many of their whiffed draws on the river. And since those bets are river bets, their value is often high.

So induce them to bet. And don’t chicken out and fold. You’ll find yourself obtaining better value on the river.

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