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The Mental Game-Being Aware of your Surroundings

Winning at poker requires a deep awareness and understanding of the current situation and your opponents. Sometimes, the nuances that you pick up or miss can make a huge difference in a major decision. So you need to constantly be aware of the conditions of the game you’re in, and the constant changes that continuously occur.

Here are 10 basic things to look for, take note of, and continuously update your knowledge of:

  1. Your opponent’s range, adjusted for the current conditions. What hands will he bet with? Call with? Check with? Raise with? Check-raise with?
  2. Does he like to bluff? Is his bluffing frequency greater or less than optimum?
  3. Does he lay down hands to pressure?
  4. Does he pay off liberally?
  5. Does he bet his draws? Raise his draws?
  6. Does he automatically continuation bet? If not, when not?
  7. Does he like to make trap plays, or is he an ABC straight-forward player?
  8. Does he like to check-raise? With what strength hands?
  9. Does his bet-sizing vary, and is it indicative of his hand strength?
  10. Does he have tells?



Obviously, there are more, and you can delve deeper into each of these 10 issues. That said, it’s important to create a thought train within your mind so that you don’t mentally wander and can compartmentalize what you need to know. As you practice this, your mental skills will develop, the thought train will become habitual, and you can then train your conscious thought to a higher level.


Do that, and over time you’ll train your mind to automatically flowchart poker problems. And you’ll be amazed how much that it will develop your game!



Capped Ranges

The best poker players are great hand readers. They correctly ascertain their opponents’ range and then make the correct strategy adjustments based on their read. One component of that equation is determining if your opponent has a “capped range,” one that’s highly unlikely to contain high-strength hands.

Say you’re effectively 200+ BB deep, with an opponent you read to have JJ+ or AK on an 8h7s3c board. You know the strongest portion of your opponent’s range is one-pair and that’s a situation you can exploit. Will he call off his stack off with one pair in the current situation? If not, you have a feasible bluffing opportunity. Additionally, since you know he doesn’t have super strong hands in his range to call big bets, you should size your value-bets accordingly.

The point being that, if you can effectively take the strong hands out of your opponent’s range, you can adjust your strategies to exploit that change. If you’re planning a bluff, you will no longer be faced with the chance that you’ll run into those strong hands, thereby significantly increasing your chances of success. Along similar lines, since you know he can’t call a big bet with a strong hand, your value bets with your strong hands should be sized to maximize your EV against his medium-low strength calling range.

When you read an opponent’s range to be capped, you have some exploitable opportunities. That said; make sure you include your opponent’s texture into the equation before pulling the trigger. Some opponents won’t ever lay down their overpair and that would require a differing exploiting strategy, one that requires you not to bluff and to value bet larger.

Reading and exploiting these situations correctly will improve your edge. And with that improved edge, your stack will flourish.


It’s all about Edge

Do you have an edge over your opponents? It takes more than that. In order to win over time, you don’t just have to play better than your opponent’s; you have to have an edge large enough to cover your playing costs too. The house rake and tokes significantly cuts into your win.
Generally speaking, the smaller the game, the higher the costs in edge terms, so you need a larger overall edge to beat the game. Let’s define some of the basics you need to learn to put you on the right path to winning at poker.
It’s of foremost importance to play in games with inferior opponents. Be realistic! Most players put themselves further ahead of the pack than they truly are. Plus, they devalue their opponents’ game more than they should. If you’re playing in a small to medium size game with standard playing costs, it takes a significant edge percentage to overcome your costs. So, just being slightly better isn’t enough. You need to be a lot better.
You’ll need to know poker odds. How hands fair against each other and against ranges. There are many computer programs available that provide this nature of information. Doug Hull’s Poker Workbook for Math Geeks is a good learning tool and I use Flopzilla for a range analysis computer program, though there are many others out there. Anyone with reasonable math skills can learn poker math basics.
You need to be more strategically skilled than your competition. Some players quantify this simply by having stronger hand selection than their opponents. But, it’s MUCH more than that. A weaker hand than your opponent, played well, will often have better value than a poorly played stronger hand. Getting the right value out of your holding is of great importance. This requires a lot of knowledge and it’s a never-ending learning path. The good news is there are many good books and videos available. Sklansky’s No-Limit Hold’em; Theory and Practice is a good foundation read and the website is a treasure trough of information. Study them.
You need to develop superior hand-reading skills. That way you’ll have a better feel for whether you’re ahead or behind, be able to assess your value of aggression, bet-size correctly, fold accurately, bluff correctly, etc. This skill is developed by creating a systemic thought train and focusing on what’s going on around you. Compartmentalize and categorize. Don’t over-think. Keep it simple until your habituate your thought process; then grow it from there.
Do this, and you’ll develop a competitive advantage. And when you’ve got that, the chips will roll your way!

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!

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