Crucial to playing and winning in tougher games, the levels of thinking in poker are a product of using hand ranges, history, table dynamics and image. You use all these in combination to start really getting into your opponents head (and understanding how he’s getting in your head).
The levels of thinking are progressive. The first level of thinking is what your cards are. The second level of thinking is what you think your opponents cards are. The third level of thinking is what your opponent thinks your cards are. The fourth level is what your opponent thinks YOU think his cards are. The fifth level is what your opponent thinks you think that he thinks your cards are… ok, that’s enough for now.
Obviously, you use these every time you play, at least the first two levels. Most every player thinks on the first two levels. Sometimes, you’ll find that 80/2/.5 fish who seems completely oblivious to anything except his two hole cards. But we can usually assume our opponent is thinking about what we hold.
In the 6-max world of online poker, the games can become so aggressive and full of bluffing and trickery that you must consider some high levels of thinking. It’s not easy to have a grasp on this and will take experience, but with an idea of what to look for and with you constantly thinking about this subject while playing the game, you’ll be on the right track to outthinking your opponents.
The levels: An example
I’m playing a $3/$6 game on Full Tilt. Three out of the 5 opponents at the table are good, solid and aggressive TAGs who I’ve played a few hundred hands with. We all have a decent idea of how each other plays. One of them opens UTG+1 to $21. I 3-bet JcJd on the button to $72 (level one). The TAG calls.
I immediately start thinking on level two. To call my raise, I think he has a good hand. I put him on a hand range of any pocket pair, AKs, AKo, AQs, AQo. Sometimes he’ll 4-bet AA, KK and AK, and sometimes he’ll call with a hand like a suited connector, but for the most part that is going to be his range.
I’m also thinking on level three. For me to 3-bet him on the button, I usually have a good hand, but I know that he knows I can 3-bet him lightly given I have position. I think he puts me on a range of TT+, AJs+, KQo+ and some random suited connectors and small pairs.
The flop comes down 5h6h7c. The TAG checks. I bet $130. The TAG goes all in for $400 more.
Level one says I have a good but not great hand; a medium overpair on a low board. Level two says my opponent has a hand that liked the board enough to go all-in. Knowing my opponent is aggressive, he can be shoving in 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, TT, QQ, KK, AA, AhKh and AhQh here.
He can be shoving hands like 44 and AhQh because when I think on the third level, I know he knows I can have random hands on the button or overcards that didn’t hit this flop. On the fourth level of thinking, he knows that I know he can have a very strong hand here like a set. He also knows that I know he can make a move here, but the pot size and the cards dictate he moves all in with virtually any hand that is worth continuing.
I combine all of this to make my decision, which would be a call. There’s simply too much money in the pot, so we make a pot odds influenced call.
Guidelines for level one and level two
If you have read the book up to this point, you should be on your way to understanding these levels. For level one, you consult the preflop chart and what stats to aim for. For level two, you need to understand the concepts covered in previous chapters on your opponents and their hand ranges.
Guidelines for level three
Consider how smart and aware your opponent is. When playing the lower limits or against bad players, they just won’t be thinking deeply enough for you to really consider what they think of your hand. You stick to value betting and playing the strength of your hand compared to the strength of theirs. At higher limits or against better players, you can assume they are thinking much on the same level as you and will have a good idea of what your hand is.
Always be thinking how to manipulate their thoughts. When you think your opponent has your hand range narrowed down, be careful. They can either try to bluff you off the marginal holding, or sometimes they will be able to avoid putting money in against your strong hand. It’s important to mix-up your play versus these players as described in Part VI of this book and Chapter 23 on position.
Always be thinking what you are representing. Keep on your toes about what your hand looks like to your opponent. Every action you make is saying something to your opponents. To make that big bluff, you must have your opponent thinking you have a bigger hand than his. To make a big call, you must think your opponent is betting a worse hand because he thinks your hand is weak by what you’ve represented.
Guidelines for level four
Consider how smart and aware your opponent is. Even fewer players will be thinking this deeply. I wouldn’t even worry about this below $1/$2.
Does the play for your opponent make sense? Does he play a hand like this often? If he does he can have a pretty good idea of what he is representing to you and play accordingly. He can also make bluffs where he is representing a big hand because that’s how he’d usually play a big hand.
Beware the good players who play a lot of tables. They are probably on some sort of autopilot and are not going to be considering things very much at this level of thinking as they have too much going on.
Critical thinking. Being able to process all this information will take some very tough and deep thinking and a great deal of experience. You must use your logical mind to process what he has, what you have and what you are both representing and how you react to what each other is representing.
Guidelines for level five
Experience. Many of my thoughts on this level are from hundreds of thousands of hands. It has mostly become intuition and that’s the best way to play in these situations. You must rely on instinct as you won’t have time to consider all the options or even be able to comprehend the thoughts behind your logic.
One more example
I was playing $5/$10 the other day and a good TAG, whose stats were 18/15/2.5, raised UTG to $30. I was on the button with TcTh and just decided to call the raise instead of 3-betting to mix it up. I expect the TAG to be raising most pairs UTG as well as the better broadway hands (level two).
The flop came down 8c7h2d. The TAG bet $50 in the pot of $75. Raising just folds out worse hands and gets action from better hands, so I called. Given my hand range, I now lose to 88 and 77 as well as JJ-AA, but I still beat hands like 99 and AK (level two).
The turn brought the 3h. The TAG bet $125 into $175. I called since I haven’t shown any strength and he might be trying to get me to fold a hand like 66 or 55 (level three). Also, a flush draw came in on the turn and I know this villain likes to play his draws fast, so he can be betting any heart draw he has (level two). In fact, he can be double barreling with AK or AQ that doesn’t have a flush draw if he thinks I’m tight enough (level three).
The river brought the 2c. The TAG bet $300 into $425. Now I have a very tough decision. Let’s quickly review everything:
He’s betting like he has a good hand. He’d play AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 88 and 77 like this.
I’ve shown that I have a good but not great hand. I’d almost always put in more money with JJ or better, a set or two pair. Most likely, he puts me on TT or 99.
He knows that I know he raised UTG. His usually has a good hand to do that (level four). He also knows that I know he’d play AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 88 and 77 the exact same way. He can think that I have a skeptical middle pair that still doesn’t believe he has a big pair, so by firing the river he is showing he has a big hand (level four and five).
Given all this, I know that he can try to exploit my weakness by continuing to bet hands like AK or AQ.
I make the call and lose to AA. Oops! Sometimes you make a big call and lose. You might feel your confidence shaken. It’s best to go back and review the hand and make sure your thought process is reasonable and you made the right play.
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In an online poker game, at the majority of sites the maximum buy-in will be 100 times the big blind (100 BBs). The majority of players buy-in for this amount and most hands you play will be based around this size of stack. Every example in this book other than this chapter is based around a 100 BB stack for simplicity.
Sometimes, however, you will be facing situations where you’re facing a stack that has significantly less than 100 BBs, or sometimes you will have been winning money and will have a stack significantly larger than 100 BBs and playing against opponents with similar stacks. The correct play can change drastically as stacks sizes change, more so for when stack sizes are larger.
Depending on how deep you are with your opponent, that is the “effective stack size.” For example, if you have $900 at a $2/$4 game and your opponent has $120, effective stack sizes are 30 BBs. If you have $900 and your opponent has $1020, effective stack sizes are 225 BBs.
When effective stacks are less than 100 BBs
Your play won’t change that much below 100 BBs. All-ins will be more frequent and it will be easier to put your stack in with hands like top pair good kicker. Things like implied odds and calling raises preflop to flop sets go down in value, however.
From 75 BBs to 100 BBs, there is not much difference. In fact, there’s not enough of a difference that it’s worth writing about.
I find that players who buy-in for less than 75 BBs are almost always bad. This is true except for good players who buy-in for 20 BBs and when they double up they leave the tables. These players are called shortstackers and discussed below. They are usually playing with all the money they have on a site and are more into the gambling aspect of poker. I am less apt to give them credit for good hands when they go all-in and will be calling their pushes with more marginal hands.
When I’m in a pot with someone with less than 50 BBs and I flop a good draw, I am going to try as hard as I can to get all the money in on a semibluff. For example, let’s say I’m playing $.25/$.50 and am facing an opponent with $23. I don’t know anything about him but assume he is bad.
Our shortstacked opponent raises to $1.50 UTG. Another bad player with a 100 BB stack calls on the button. I call in the big blind with 7s6s.
The flop is 5c4h2s. I check, UTG bets $4 of his stack and the button folds. There’s no other option but to just put UTG all-in. Even though he’s raised UTG and bet into 2 opponents, we have a good draw and there’s still a chance he might fold. Against a full-stacked opponent in this spot, I would always call since check-raising this kind of flop when you can’t get all-in will lead to many tough turn decisions.
To summarize, when facing a shorter stacked opponent, be more apt to get all-in with any decent hand. These guys will throw their money in with some absolute garbage on occasion.
A newer phenomenon of online 6-max games are the shortstackers. These are knowledgeable opponents who buy-in for 20 BBs at multiple tables. As soon as they win a pot and get over 30 BBs, they automatically leave the table and return as soon as possible, buying in for 20 BBs again. The practice of leaving the table and returning to buy-in for the minimum buy-in is called “ratholing.”
These players are trying to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the shorthanded games. Since everyone is raising so loose in position and 3-betting each other with marginal hands, these shortstackers then shove any decent hand when facing raises and are often called by these deeper stacked raisers, even when the deep stacks have bad hands.
A shortstacker will have very tight stats – around the 13 VPIP, 11 PFR range – and will be an annoyance at the table when you’re trying to open your game up against other, deeper stacked opponents.
The best way to play against these opponents is to play tightly when they shove over your open raise. It will depend on what position you raised from to determine what hands you should call with, but always keep in mind the shortstacker’s 3-bet range will widen dramatically when you raise on the CO or button. These guys usually make money from players who call their 3-bets with too many hands.
The other situation you will face against a shortstacker is when they open raise. Your only move against this when you have a hand is to 3-bet and put them all-in. Again, what hands to do this with will depend greatly on position. If a shortstacker’s stats are 13/11, he’s raising a very tight range UTG and I’d only put him all-in with a range of 99 or better, AQ or better. However, when this same player raises from the button, I’d put him all-in with nearly any decent hand, ranging from KT or better to any ace to any pair.
It should be noted that there aren’t many good shortstackers below the $1/$2 level. Often times, someone buying in for 20 BBs will be a huge fish who is just gambling. It’s best to notice when a 20 BB opponent doubles up and leaves before his next big blind – make a note on this opponent that he is a ratholer and play accordingly.
When playing with more than 100 BBs
Playing with deeper stacks can be very tricky and lead to some extremely tough situations. It’s a fine balance towards getting the most value of your hand while protecting it at the same time.
Always be thinking about future turn and river decisions. This is very important and you must always consider it when playing deeper. Playing deeper you will often be in spots where there will be money left to play on the turn and river. Every preflop and flop decision is leading down this path so always keep in mind where your decisions are taking you.
For example, let’s say I’m in a $5/$10 game. The button is pretty unknown to me, but has $2,000 behind him, as do I. Over 30 hands, his stats are 21/10/2. He opens to $40. I 3-bet AdQd to $150 in the BB. Already, I have to consider that I’m making a big pot out-of-position with a hand like AQ, which can be very tough to play in this spot. Given how wide the button can be raising, however, I 3-bet here more often than I call.
The flop is QsJs3c. Whether I decide to bet the flop or check and play for pot control, I have to consider my future turn and river decisions. If I bet and get raised, I have to decide between going all-in, calling and folding. You can see how playing OOP is so tough – all three choices are viable decisions in a pot this big with a vulnerable but probably best hand like top pair top kicker.
If I bet and get called, I have to consider what I’ll do on various turns – such as when the flush draw or straight draws get there or when the J pairs. If I bet, get raised and decide to call the raise, I have to consider the same turn cards and how they’ll affect my decision. Same goes for when I bet the flop and turn and get called on both streets; I have to start thinking about how I’m going to react to the river before I make my previous decision. Every decision is going to involve hundreds of dollars and will have a big effect on how much money I win or lose.
100 to 140 BBs
Not much changes when you get a little above 100 BBs. You’ll be making many of the same semibluffs and be getting all-in with the same strength hands.
Your implied odds go up a little bit. When you are facing a 3-bet after you’ve open raised a small pair, if you’re around 125 BBs or more deep with an opponent, you can make the call whereas if you had 100 BBs you’d fold. You can also call on the turn to hit your draws more often.
Also be more worried about your opponent’s implied odds. Start 3-betting larger preflop, especially when you’re OOP. Be more inclined to make bets that are close to the size of the pot when there are multiple draws on board to reduce your opponent’s implied odds.
140 to 180 BBs
This is when things can really get complicated. You’re going to be in some really icky spots with top pairs and overpairs. Making a move like 3-betting all-in on the flop as a semibluff isn’t going to be the best play.
We can start calling more hands preflop as well. Opening up our calling range against open raisers on the button is recommended. Hands like suited connectors, one-gapper suited connectors and suited aces go up in value since when they hit big hands they will win big pots.
We can start making more semibluff flop raises like raising gutshots and overcards when we’re in position because our opponent is going to have to have a very good hand to want to put a lot of money in given how deep we are. Abuse position strongly when you’re deep against another opponent – it’s just so hard for them to continue with anything but the strongest of their hands.
At the same time, we need to be careful making big semibluffs. At 100 BBs deep, I recommended getting all in with any good flush draw or 8-out straight draw by 3-betting all in on the flop if you are raised. When you are 170 BBs deep, the situation changes and calling is better.
For example, let’s say I raise UTG+1 with KsQs at a $1/$2 game. The button, a decent player with stats of 20/13/2, calls my $6 raise. We’re heads up to a flop of JdTc4h. I bet $12 and the button raises to $40.
When we are 100 BBs deep, I’d usually shove here. Button can be raising a few hands that have to fold a push. When we are called here on a push, we’re always behind, but we have good equity with eight outs to the nuts.
But things change when you get deeper. In this hand, we both have $340. Once he makes it $40, shoving in $315 is just going to be bad play. He’ll fold a good amount, but we’re only winning $65 when he does. When we get called, he’ll have JJ, TT, 44 or JTs every time. When we get all-in against these hands, we’re only winning 26% of the time, so very often we’re shoving in $315 to win $65 and when we get called we’re only winning 1 out of 4 times. It’s a losing play and it’s a much better play to just call the flop raise and try to suck out on his big hand.
The same goes for calling a 3-bet in position against an aggressive 3-bettor. Let’s say we open T9s on the button to $3 at $.50/$1 and get 3-bet by the BB $10. We’re both 150 BBs deep. The flop is Jc8c2h. The BB bets $18. Shoving in the rest of our stack would be bad here for the same reasons described above. It’s much better to call once and reevaluate the turn.
Be careful with good one pair hands. Often getting in 180 BBs with top pair top kicker is a losing play. It’s hard to ever really say when it’s correct or not; again, you’re going to need to gain some experience and use your hand reading skills for each exact situation.
Generally, against more aggressive opponents who can put in big raises and bets on a bluff, I’d be more apt to not bet my weaker top pairs in certain spots. If they are tough TAGs or LAGs who mix up their bluffs well with their strong hands, play more for pot control with a vulnerable one pair hand. If they are near maniac aggressive, don’t be afraid to get a lot of your stack in with just top pair.
Against passive players and fish, keep betting away. There’s a lot of value to be made against bad players when they get deep, so don’t let up with TPTK and your overpairs. It’s important to be very cautious when they put in a big raise against your bets however. Passive players are not known to bluff or pull stupid moves when they’re deep.
Also be careful with hands like two-pair when there are straights and flushes present. Having 98 on a T98 board is very dangerous and will be a losing play if you continue if your tight opponent has raised.
Many of the previous thoughts continue when you get deeper. When you start getting over 200BBs deep, you have a little more room to maneuver, especially against good players and can start opening up some big bluffs. Against another TAG, you’re going to be representing a big hand anytime you put in 200 BBs so take that into account when you are finding spots to bluff. Always err on the side of caution, however. If your opponent is telling you he has a big hand, you should let off. If you’re not careful, you can spew off a 200 BB stack, which is a big losing play.
You can get very creative preflop. Every hand can be 3-bet and 4-bet without great hands, as you will have so much money behind that you won’t be committed if you are making a move preflop. You can call 3-bets with a wider range, as long as you are willing to semibluff and bluff on the right boards postflop.
Keep up the creativeness postflop. Semibluffing hands like gutshots and straight draws go up in value because when you are called and hit your draw you are destined to win a huge pot. Again, be careful semibluffing – in big pots don’t semibluff to where you are faced with a tough decision and won’t know if you’re pot committed. For example, let’s say we’re 250 BBs deep at $2/$4 and we open to $14 on the button at $2/$4 with Ts8s. The BB, who’s a tough LAG, 3-bets to $54. We call and see a flop of Jc9s2h. The LAG bets $100. We can’t shove here; it’s just a ridiculously big overbet and we’re risking too much money with eight outs. If we make a pot sized raise of around $300, we’re going to be faced with a terrible decision if the LAG pushes for $646 over our bet. We’ll have to fold a great draw because we aren’t getting odds to draw to eight outs.
It’s much better to use our positional advantage to just call here with our strong draw this deep.
As described above, be careful with vulnerable one-pair and weak two-pair type of hands. You also need to start being careful with sets on flush and straight boards. This is very circumstantial and I’m still almost never folding a set. Weaker flushes, especially those ten high and lower, are going to be in a lot of trouble in spots where you’re getting over 200 BBs in the pot with them against your tighter opponents. When playing deep, analyze who your opponent is, try to figure out his hand range and act accordingly with your own hand, taking how deep you are and future streets of play into consideration.
I was recently playing $2/$4 on Full Tilt. I raised AcAh preflop and got called by a tough regular on the button. The flop was JsTs9s. I bet, my opponent raised, and I folded quickly.
At another table at the same time, I raised AsAh preflop and got called by a tough regular on the button again. The flop was 5d2d2h. I bet, my opponent raised, and I 3-bet, hoping to get my stack in.
These two examples show how I based my decision on “board texture.” In the first example, the board was very coordinated. There are many straight and flush draws out there as well as two pair combinations. The second example, the board is a dry board. That means that there aren’t as many flush and straight draws and two pair combinations possible, and that they are less likely given the rank of the cards.
Board texture refers to:
How coordinated the board is. For example, a JT9 board makes many straights possible. It also makes two pairs possible, as people are more apt to play cards closer in rank (such as JT and T9).
Any flush draws or flushes present. A JsTs9s board is bad for AA with no spade because many of our opponent’s hands now have our hand either drawing nearly dead against a flush, or our opponent’s hand has really good equity with a spade. For example, QsJc on this board is a 65% favorite over AA with no spade.
What rank the cards are on the board and how they relate to your opponent’s likely hand. When I get raised on the 5d2d2h flop, I am not worried about my opponent having a deuce. Good players don’t call raises preflop with 2’s in their hand, unless he has flopped quads or fives full of deuces and that’s too rare of an event to worry about. Chances are he has a smaller overpair, a flush draw, or is making a bluff, figuring me for a hand like AK.
You must ALWAYS be analyzing board texture. Understanding how the board relates to your opponent’s hand, first before he acts, then after he acts, will help you put him on a hand range and choose the best play.
Let us go back to the QQ hand I played from the hand ranges and equity chapter. I knew the board, which was 9c5c4h, hit three of the pocket pairs he calls preflop with a set. I knew also that his weaker overpairs, JJ and TT, liked the flop and knew he would go all-in with them. I used board texture to help me figure out his hand range, which then helped me figure out that I was going to win just enough to make a call profitable.
In the later chapters when I discuss “tricky” play, I emphasize using board texture to know when to pull off moves like check-raise bluffs or double and triple barrels.
The semibluff is an amazing move that will be a key element of your game in the aggressive games of 6-max no-limit hold ‘em. A semibluff is a bet or raise by a hand that figures to not be the best hand but can improve to be the best hand and that can also win the pot by folding a better hand.
Semibluffs are everywhere. Every time you bet a flush draw, you’re semibluffing. Every time you raise a gutshot, you’re semibluffing. Even when you continuation bet AK on a low board, you are semibluffing since if you are called you rarely have the best hand but can improve to the best hand.
Your opponents are using semibluffs all the time against you. That’s why when we’re facing an all-in with an overpair on the flop, we’re much more likely to call if there is a flush draw or open-ended straight draw possible since we are ahead of more hands in our opponent’s range.
Before I give you guidelines on how and when to use the semibluff, let me show you some math so you can see just how powerful a semibluff can be.
Let’s say we’re playing $2/$4 on Full Tilt. The game has a few good regulars at the table. It’s become a very aggressive game with a lot of 3-bets preflop.
I open Ts9s on the button to $14. The BB, whose stats are 22/18/3 and one of the more aggressive TAGs in the game, makes it $48. Even though my hand is only a decent one and we’re only 100 BB’s deep, I make the call because his range is so wide that I plan on semibluffing a large amount of flops.
The flop is Js3s5h. The BB bets $75 into me. I shove in the rest of my stack ($352). If I win the pot right now I will win $173, a pretty good pot. To call me, I think my opponent will need to QJ or better to call. It’s also possible I could get called by a hand like AsKs or As5s and be in pretty bad shape.
My exact range for him calling is: QJ, KJ, AJ, QQ, KK, AA, JJ, 55, 33, AsKs, AsQs, As5s. This is a little bit of a wide range for him since it’s possible he would not 3-bet 55, 33, As5s and QJ.
If I get called by this range, I have a 35% chance to win by hitting my flush. Sometimes I will win by making two pair or better by the river, also.
I believe my opponent is 3-betting 15% of his hands in this spot. He will have a hand to call 6.3% of the time.
Thus, 42% of the time I am putting in $352 with a 35% chance to win. I am winning $173 about 58% of the time. It should be noted that this 58% is what we call fold equity, or the amount of times we think our opponent will fold to our semibluff.
Our expectation when called is -$71.30 .
Our expectation when not called is $173.
Since we are only getting called 42% of the time, our total expectation and profit on this play in the long run is $70.39 . That’s huge!
This math is certainly confusing and I’m not going to lie; I needed help from a math-savvy poker buddy to get this all correct. In no way do you really need to understand all these numbers. Just understand that the semibluff is a very powerful move in poker that will win you a lot of money when used correctly.
Using the semibluff
You are going to using the semibluff often. As you saw in the previous example, when you are against aggressive players and you start calling a wider range of their 3-bets, it’s important to raise or shove any good draw (which I consider to be one with 8 outs or more).
The semibluff helps you be more unpredictable to opponents. If you only ever raised with good, made hands, your opponent could fold all his hands except for his best ones. If you raise with all your good draws, however, he’ll have to call you down lighter and you’ll start getting those sets paid off.
Be more apt to semibluff “good” draws. Semibluff more with bigger draws. These are draws like flush draws, open-ended straight draws, double gutshots and combo draws (flush + straight draws, pair + straight draws, etc). You can semibluff hands like gutshots and overcards but they will be more situational. Combo draws are EXCELLENT hands. KhQh on a JhTh4c flop is 42% to win even against top set. Try to get combo draws all-in whenever possible.
Be more apt to semibluff tighter players. Since tight players can fold decent hands, I’m making more of my semibluffs against them. You simply have more fold equity on average against a tighter player. Against loose and passive fish, I’m more apt to just call when they bet and I have a good draw. You have much less fold equity against them. Also, an advantage to just calling against fish is to also keep them in the pot for when you actually hit the hand. You’ll win a big pot. Just calling a draw against a tight player isn’t as good because they will often fold when you hit your hand.
Be more apt to semibluff when you can get all-in. Semibluffs work better when you can shove all-in and not have to worry about playing a turn or river with more money left behind. Our fold equity is usually greatest when we make an all-in move as well. By semibluffing and not being able to commit yourself by pot odds to your draw or by not being able to get all-in you can cause situations where your opponent will go all-in and you will have to fold your good draw. Be sure to brush up on the math, however. Folding a good draw when you have pot odds to suck out is very bad.
At $1/$2, you raise preflop to $6 with 9s7s. The BB, a LAG, calls. The flop is TsJs3c. The BB checks, you bet $12 and the BB check-raises to $40. You should shove here 100% of the time.
At $5/$10, the SB, a very aggressive TAG, opens to $35. You call in the BB with 7s6s. The flop is 5s4c2s. The TAG bets $60. You semibluff to $180. The TAG shoves in $785 more. Even though it’s a huge raise, you call because your draw is so big (15 outs ) that you have odds to call.
At $.25/$.50, UTG, UTG+1, the button and the SB limp. They are all fishy players. You check 5c4s in the BB. The flop is Jc3h2s. SB checks. You should bet the pot as a semibluff. Even though you won’t take this pot down that many times, you have an excellent 8-out draw to the nuts against very bad players and it’s worth it to start building the pot for when you do hit your straight. It’s important to not semibluff the turn if called, however, and to check-call. Once a fish calls a flop like this, he is seldom folding to a turn bet.
When not to semibluff
There are situations where you have a good draw but semibluffing will create a more awkward situation than calling.
I’d be less apt to semibluff when a very tight player has check-raised me or raised my continuation bet when I’m in a position where I generally have a strong hand. For example, if I raise UTG or UTG+1 with JhTh and a nitty TAG calls sitting directly on my left, I know he almost always has a pair. When I get raised on a 9s8c5d flop by him, my best play is to call and try to hit on the turn. I know I have no fold equity against him because he always has a very good hand here. By semibluffing all I am doing is putting my money in with 8-outs against a strong hand.
This is all circumstantial and a semibluff with 8 or more outs can never be that bad of a play. I really hate semibluffing with an 8-out draw when I get reraised by my opponent and I have to fold. I also don’t like semibluffing an 8-out draw when I’m out of position against a fish who has just bet and he is not known to fold. It’s much better to call and try to hit against an opponent like that.
I generally avoid semibluffs with weaker hands like gutshots and overcards when I will have to push in my entire stack to do so (such as in the 9s7s example against the LAG). If the flop was Ts6h3d, anything but folding is bad. There are circumstances when I will do this, however it usually requires me to be in a very aggressive game against opponents who are playing too aggressive against me. For example, in the Ts9s hand, if the flop had been 8s6c3h, a semibluff there is OK because there’s a good enough chance he can’t call and we need to slow down his aggression. Part of the reason to push a gutshot like this is for metagame and image, described in later chapters.
 6.3/15 = .42, or 42% we’re getting called
 (.35(450) + (-352)(.65)) = +$157.50 + (-)$228.8 = -$71.30
 .58(173) + .42((-)71.30 ) = 100.34 + (-29.94) = $70.39
 A double-inside straight draw. Essentially, it is two gutshots in one hand. It is a very deceptive hand. For example, holding 75 on a 6 9 3 board is a double gutshot; an 8 and a 4 give you a straight.
 Notice how having an 8-out straight draw and a flush draw does not mean you have 17 outs. You only have 15 outs as 2 of the cards that make you a straight also make you a flush.
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Another important use for pot odds is when you are on the river and are facing a bet. Your decision against this bet is to either to call or fold. You can use pot odds to help you determine how often your hand needs to be good to make a call.
It’s much the same way as when we are facing an all-in and are figuring out if we win enough to make the call given the money in the pot. It’s a little more difficult on a river call since we are trying to figure out how many of his hands we beat and how often he has those hands compared to how many of his hands beat us and how often he has those hands.
Ok, that was a little confusing. So how exactly do we do this? Well, it all starts with hand ranges. Throughout the hand, we’re putting our opponent on a hand range. Each decision he makes in the hand helps us narrow down his hands.
In any hand, when we get to the river and our opponent bets, it’s a lot to consider and will most likely narrow his hand range down for us. We take this into account and now we have to figure out if we beat the hands he bets enough.
Often figuring out the math on this decision isn’t possible. I use mostly intuition in these spots. If I beat some of his hands and lose to some of his hands, there’s always enough money in the pot to justify a call. If I beat a few of his hands, and lose to most of his hands, I’ll know I’ll have to be getting a good price to call the river.
Let’s try an example to smooth out this concept.
I’m playing $1/$2 on Cake Poker. I raise AcTc on UTG+1 to $7.
The flop is TdJd3h. I’ve flopped middle pair with the best kicker, an OK hand in this spot. However the board has many draws. The BB checks and I bet $12. The BB quickly calls.
The turn is the Jc. The BB checks. I check behind for pot control reasons as I’m unlikely to get called by a worse hand if I bet and the second jack can mean I’m drawing dead to trips.
The river is the 5c. The BB bets $35 into the pot of $39.
I have to call $35 to win $74. Thus, I need to be winning 32% of the time to call.
I don’t know too much about BB, but I’m assuming he’s bad by how many hands he’s played preflop since I sat down at the table. I find these kind of players play their flush and straight draws passively most of the time. It’s also possible he has trip jacks since I would expect the same kind of player to play top pair good kicker passively.
I don’t think he has a set or two pair because he would have put in a check-raise on the flop. I’m essentially putting him on either trip jacks or a busted draw to make this river bet. His hand range is most likely AJ, KJ, QJ, J9, J8, Q9, KQ, 98 or one of the many flush draws possible.
Given that I feel at least half his hands are missed draws and I only need be good 32% of the time, we have a very easy call. This one is pretty clear-cut since there are so many busted draws and only a few hands that beat me.
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A very important concept related to board texture is pot control. Pot control means keeping the pot small in situations where a big pot means bad things for your hand. Another way to think of it is a small or vulnerable hand means a small pot.
I exercise pot control often. Pot control situations will come up every session you play and it’s important to gain a strong understanding of this concept.
Let’s go back to the QQ hand I played from the hand ranges and equity chapter one more time, but with a different flop. A tight, aggressive regular makes it $6 on the CO. I raise to $20 with QdQh on the button. Our opponent calls. Remember, I’m putting him on AKs, AKo, and any pocket pair.
Let’s not forget that our opponent is putting us on a hand range also. He probably thinks we’re raising 99 or better, as well as big broadway cards, with the occasional light 3-bet with a suited connector or weak suited ace.
The flop is AcKd3h. Our opponent checks. We’re going to exercise pot control and check. Why?
Our main goal right now is to get to showdown. That flop was pretty bad for queens, but it was also pretty bad for our opponent’s hand range. If we bet, all we’re doing is folding out every hand we beat, and we’re getting called by better. That’s a very important concept, and if you feel that is the case when you’re in a hand, under most circumstances you should not bet.
It’s also possible that our opponent might make a move on this flop. If we bet, we could get bluffed off the best hand because villain might try to get us to fold our lower pocket pairs.
Once we check the flop, many opponents will bet the turn with whatever hand they have. We’ll have to call one bet, even on a scary board like this, because giving up to one bet is too weak. Also, it is very rare that someone will have the balls to fire a big bet on the river on this kind of board as bluff so we can safely fold if he bets the river.
If our opponent checks to us on the turn, it’s best to keep checking.
Sometimes I’ll reraise a CO opener on the button with a hand like A5s or KQ, and I’d play them exactly the same way as QQ here (except maybe firing a value bet on the turn or river, since there are hands like KJ to call me if villain is playing loose).
You can play for pot control out of position, though it’s going to be a little more difficult. Since you have to act first and give away more information, an opponent may try to bluff you more aggressively since you are showing weakness. For this reason, I tend to play for pot control out of position only against passive or weak opponents.
For example, I was coaching a student the other day while he was playing $.50/$1. The CO, a bad regular who is a little too loose and a little too passive with stats of 30/10, opened to $3. My student was in the big blind and 3-bet him to $10 with TT. His opponent called.
The flop was Qc9h4d. I told my student to check and play for pot control. Betting usually folds out worst hand (except for a hand like A9). Also, his opponent may make a semibluff (with hands such as JT, A4 and 54), if my student bets, moving him off his hand. Since his opponent was passive and not known to bluff, we can safely check to him, showing weakness, and not be afraid of facing a big bluff.
In spots like this, if my opponent checks behind, I will usually bet the turn. When you check a flop like this after 3-betting, bad players tend to open up their calling range on the turn and will give you action with hands that would have folded to a flop bet.
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The other day I was playing in a $3/$6 game with a bunch of bad players. There was a lot of money to be made at this table, although it was a little wild because some of the fish were maniacs.
One of the maniacs, whose stats were 60/20/2.5, raised in early position. I called on the button and took a flop with 9s8s.
The flop was 7c6s2h. The maniac bet $50 into the $51 pot. Using my pot odd calculations, I’m about 16% to hit my draw on the next card (8 X 2=16%). Having to put $50 into the now $101 pot, it would seem I need a 33% chance to win to continue with my open-ended straight draw. But this is incorrect due to my implied odds.
Implied odds is taking pot odds but adding in how much I expect to win on future rounds of betting. While I’m not getting the correct odds to call with my open-ended straight draw if that is all the betting that is going to happen, I can expect to win more money since hitting a big hand like a straight is going to win me a big pot.
Let’s say if we hit on the turn, we expect on average to make another $250 off him. This amount we expect to win can vary greatly; sometimes he’s check/folding, sometimes we’re taking the rest of his $530. But we can guess to help us in our example. Since we now expect to make another $250 on the flop call, we can add that $250 to the $101 in the pot and assume we are now calling $50 to win $351.
We now need a 12.4% chance to win and can make a profitable call.
Of course, there are a million things to consider in no-limit hold ‘em that can swing this decision in our favor. Let’s say we expected to only win $150 more off our opponent. We would have needed a 20% chance to call profitably based on math. But I’d still call because:
Sometimes we will hit an 8 or a 9 to win the pot.
Sometimes the maniac will check the turn to us and we can see 2 cards for the $50 we called on the flop (thus making that alone a profitable call, since 8 outs X 4 gives us roughly a 32% to win).
In this example, we have a backdoor flush draw. We’ll make a spade flush about 4% of the time by the river, which gives us that added boost to our equity to make some close calls.
One key aspect that you can add when analyzing your implied odds is your ability to take the pot away on a later street. When playing tighter players, you can call a hand in this situation, planning to bet and take the pot away if they don’t have anything. So, sometimes you win a big pot when they have a hand like a big pair and you hit the draw and you sometimes win a decent pot when they check/fold a hand like AK on the turn.
This isn’t a golden rule. When an obvious draw like an open-ended straight draw or flush draw hits on the turn, players who can read hands may not put any more money in with a hand like AA when you make a big raise. When an obvious draw like an open-ended straight draw or flush draw misses, players who can read hands may pick off bluffs with marginal hands because they can put you on this busted draw.
In no limit, all these things are very circumstantial. It’s impossible to ever really have a perfect number for your implied odds. However, we can try our best. Having an understanding of your opponents can help you greatly in these spots. Some general guidelines that I use to help decide if I have implied odds to call when I don’t have the direct pot odds are:
How bad my opponent is. Against a fish, you will often be able to win more bets on later streets because they will call with a much wider range of hands.
If my draw is to the nuts or not. If I have a low flush draw, I’ll throw it away most of the time without good pot odds. The main reason for this is reverse implied odds (see below) and that flushes tend not to get paid off that much.
8-out straight draws are better than flush draws. I like calling to hit my open-ended or double gutted straight draws a lot more than flush draws. When the flush comes, people are very hesitant to call big bets if they don’t have a flush. A straight draw is more well hidden and will get paid off a lot more. It should be noted I don’t mean one-card straights (such as K9 on a 876 board). Those draws are pretty weak since if you hit your card you are rarely winning more money from your opponent.
Consider hidden outs. Hidden outs are ways to win the hand that you might not notice or consider. This applies to hands like higher flush draws like an ace-high or king-high flush draw, where you can hit your A or K and win the pot. This also applies to the backdoor flush draw or backdoor straight draw. These possibilities add a few percent to your chance to win and that can make all the difference.
It’s tempting to overestimate your implied odds. It’s fun chasing a draw, hitting it and winning a big pot. But often you are up against an opponent who just won’t pay you off. Against tighter and good opponents, try to find ways to steal the pot by semibluffing rather than calling because you feel you have implied odds.
Reverse implied odds
Let’s say I’m playing in a $2/$4 game. Two loose, passive players limp in position. I check the BB with 7s4s. The flop is 9sTc2s. I bet $10 on the flop with my seven-high flush draw and both players call.
The turn is the 5d. I check, the first limper bets $20 and the second limper folds. I fold.
I fold here because there is a good chance of losing to a bigger flush. Hitting your hand and then losing a big pot with it is an example of reverse implied odds, i.e. that in future streets, you can expect to lose money in future betting by hitting your hand. This can greatly affect your implied odds and turn some of these hands into fold.
Let’s further analyze the above hand. I have roughly an 18% chance to win. I have to call $20 to win $61. I think if I hit my flush he will pay off a $75 river bet. That means I have to hit my hand at least 15.6% of the time, so I should call.
The problem is in these situations you have to assume a flush draw is in his range and if it is, it’s almost always bigger than yours. And in these situations, he’s going to raise the river and you’re going to have to fold (although many would call a flush here).
Reverse implied odds can refer to preflop situations as well. You’ve almost certainly heard on TV or in beginner books not to play hands like AT and KJ to a raise, because of reverse domination. It means the exact same thing as reverse implied odds. By playing a hand like KJ, you sometimes expect to lose money even when you hit your hand as you will tend to get action from hands with better kickers. It has reverse implied odds in those situations and is not worth playing.
Again, always exercise caution when not drawing to the nuts, especially with flushes.
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You know what kind of opponents you play against and you know how to put them on hand ranges. Now it’s time to take this information and put it to use as we try to understand when and how to value bet.
Most value bets will be easy. You’ll have a set, two pair or an overpair and your opponent keeps checking to you or calling you down. It’s pretty obvious we have our opponent beat so we bet for value.
How much should you bet? This is very circumstantial and you will have to rely on what hands you put him on and what he puts you on to know how much to bet correctly. Generally, it’s better to make a large, 3/4ths pot-sized bet or larger. If someone feels like calling with his hand on the river he is usually willing to call a large bet. At the same time, if someone has a pretty marginal hand that is facing a tough board, he will only call if he is getting a cheaper price on the call.
A word of advice: be more apt to value bet larger when there’s a busted flush draw or a busted open-ended straight draw. People love to make big calls with weak hands when possible draws have missed. They will even interpret a bigger bet as a bluff since they assume you are trying to get them to fold.
What about when my hand isn’t as strong? As I said earlier in the book, you should value bet more than you think you should. That’s important to ingrain in your head as you find yourself on the river with top pair and are asking, “Should I bet here? He can’t possibly call me with worse! What do I do if he raises!?”
Should I bet here? If you are asking that question, probably. Often we find ourselves on the river with a good but not great hand and an opponent that has checked to us. His checking is usually telling us something: he doesn’t have much of a hand.
As I’ve said before, a fatal flaw of online poker players is thinking they are being bluffed more often than they really are. So bet your good hand. Even if your hand isn’t that good but it beats most of the hand range of your opponent, you should bet.
If you value bet and if it gets called by a better hand 49%, but gets called by a worse hand 51% of the time, you’ve just made money on the bet. This is an important concept to know: a good value bet doesn’t always have to get called by a worse hand.
For example, say we are playing in a $1/$2 game and we raise KhTc on the CO. The BB, a looser and more aggressive TAG with stats of 23/19/3, calls.
The flop is 9c6h5d. The BB checks and we fire $12 into the $13 pot. BB calls.
We begin our hand range analysis. Being as aggressive as he is, he would raise a straight or set on this flop. He most likely has a vulnerable one-pair hand on this board, like Th9h, 8c8d or 7c7s.
The turn is the 9d. The BB checks. There’s no sense in betting since we have nothing and the turn card does not scare our opponent as we rarely have a nine. He might also be trapping with a nine. We check behind.
The river is the Kc. The BB checks again. A player this aggressive would almost certainly bet a nine. He probably still has a one pair hand.
He can’t call with worse! Given the K on board, he can’t possibly call a bet, can he?
Yes, he can. There’s a good chance he’s thinking that we don’t have a K and if we bet we’re just trying to bluff him off his hand since it’s obvious he does not have that strong of a hand. You will be constantly surprised what opponents, even tighter ones, will call a river bet with if they feel you are bluffing.
What do I do if he raises? I see a lot of my students struggle with this concept. They are worried about betting weaker hands on the river like top pair and middle pair, or a hand like top two pair when the flush draw gets there because they are worried about getting either check-raised or raised after their bet.
I tell them not to worry at all. You simply don’t get check-raised or raised on the river very much. And if you do? You fold most of your hands. Opponents simply just don’t bluff the river with check-raises and raises very much. It does happen, but so infrequently you don’t need to consider it.
If you have a very good hand and you get check-raised or raised on the river, you’ll have to consider how often he is raising a hand that is good but still worse than yours and decide if you should call given the pot odds.
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In the first part of position, I gave the basics of how important it is at online 6-max poker. In part two, I’m going to tell you how to exploit position for bigger profits.
You’re going to do that by abusing the button. The button is the king in shorthanded hold ‘em. Love the button. Get to know the button. Raise the button.
In every session you need to evaluate how you use the button and find ways to play more hands on it. It is just that valuable in online poker. Once you’ve played ten thousand or more hands, you should open your database in Poker Tracker and click on “positional stats.”
Your stats on the button are going to be higher than any other position. If you follow my preflop chart, you’ll have a solid foundation for open raising on the button. If you are feeling adventurous, you certainly can raise a wider range than I recommend.
Your stats on the CO should also be higher than they are on UTG and UTG+1. Somewhere between your UTG and button stats is good.
Just open raising a wide range on the button and CO isn’t all we’re going to do to exploit the benefits of being in position. There are a number of fairly consistent techniques I use on the button:
Abusing limpers. This is a fairly basic tactic that works best at the lower limits where limpers are fairly commonplace. If there are any number of limpers, you can raise a wide range of hands on the button, as wide as what your button open-raising range could be. It’s just that profitable as every time you take down the pot is a 4 to 5 BB victory. When you get called, you’ll have to refer to the continuation bet chapter as a guide to know when to bet. It’s important to be careful when you flop top pair with dominated hands like A7 or T7 when you isolate with them since if you get a lot of action you’re likely to be behind with such a weak kicker. Play for pot control postflop. Once you move up to higher limits, there are fewer limpers and other players have an idea that you are raising to isolate the limper and may play back lighter. That shouldn’t stop you from abusing limpers, though, as limpers (who are usually pretty fishy) are harder to come by.
Abusing CO openers. When the CO opens, whether it’s a fish or a TAG, their hand range can be fairly wide. There’s something about the CO and later that just opens people up. When we have the button against the CO we can abuse this wide range and call or 3-bet a wide range of hands ourselves on the button. It’s important when you call in these spots that you open up your semibluffing range postflop. If you start calling with hands like 75s and KTo on the button against the CO you can’t rely on hitting a big hand postflop to make you money. You need to be stealing more pots.
For example, I’ll raise any gutshot and any middle or bottom pair if I call with a suited connector on the button against a CO raiser. Let’s say I’m playing $1/$2. The CO is a good TAG, but a little on the tighter side and straightforward. He opens to $6. I call on the button with Td9d and the flop is 9s4cKd. This is an awesome flop to semibluff! It’s rare for him to have gotten a piece of that flop. Just compare my preflop chart on the CO to this board. He’s folding such a large amount of the time. He leads out $10 and I raise to $32. He folds quickly.
I wait until I have something in this spot to have back-up equity just in case he does have a hand and calls. Imagine our opponent had KcAd in that spot. He’d most likely just call the raise. The turn is the 9h. Bingo! We’ll be taking all his money.
It’s important when you get called on these semibluffs to not put any more money in on a bluff. Your opponent is showing a lot of strength by calling this raise and a continued bluff is pure spew unless you have a read on your opponent that he can call the flop and fold to a large turn bet.
Playing hands like this helps for when you actually hit a big hand on a flop like this, like a straight, two pair or trips. Your opponent will never know if you have a big hand or just a gutshot and this makes you infinitely tougher to play against.
It’s important to note when I flop a good but not great hand, such as top pair, a flush draw, or an open-ended straight draw in this situation that I just call their continuation bet. If you raise their continuation bet and they 3-bet you all-in, you’ll have to fold and these hands are too valuable to do that with. If you raise middle pair, a gutshot or the nut straight, you know what to do against a 3-bet.
I will 3-bet any of the hands I call here as well. I 3-bet about 20% of the time and call 80% of the time.
Not being exploited in position
Part of understanding position is avoiding its pitfalls yourself. It’s important to understand how big of an advantage a good player has over you when he’s in position.
An example of this is how much I win UTG compared to the button. UTG, I’m playing only my good and great hands, yet my UTG win rate is much less than the button. Too often, I get calls from players in LP who either flopped a bigger hand against my bigger pair or I miss with overcards and have to fold to these players when they play back at me.
The most obvious way to avoid being exploited out of position is to not call too much in the blinds. There are some instances where you should call out of the blinds, as explained in Part VI under “defending your blinds,” but being overly tight in the blinds will never be a big leak.
Another way to counteract being out of position is 3-betting out of the blinds. You will be taking the initiative back and putting the pressure on another player. Not having the initiative and being out of position is extremely difficult in no-limit hold ‘em. Be careful of good players who will take advantage of you 3-betting a lot of hands out of position by calling your 3-bets and playing aggressively postflop.
People don’t like it, but sometimes it’s best to be overly tight and surrender what may be the best hand, when playing against a tough, aggressive player when you’re out of position. An example of this is when you call a pocket pair like 5c5d against a tough TAG who has opened the button. The flop is JcTc2d, you check, and he bets. Let’s face it. We’ll have the best hand sometimes against hands like 7h6h, Ac4s and others. But we just have to fold it. A tough TAG will know you have a marginal hand and will attempt to bluff you later too often. Also, with pretty much any hand, he has good equity in this spot. Notice that AdKh has ten outs. Notice that 8s7s has ten outs! We must simply surrender to the good player.
 By back-up equity, I mean that I want some chance to win the pot when I make a light semibluff. That chance can be hitting a gutshot, hitting trips or two pair or hitting an overcard.
One of the most important aspects of hold ‘em is figuring out what your opponent has and acting accordingly. We refer to this as figuring out our opponent’s hand ranges. Every time you play poker, you are using your deductive skills to figure out your opponents hands, even if you don’t realize it.
For example, when you have a pretty good hand and you bet on the flop, turn and river, you’re putting your opponent on a hand: a worse one than yours. When you flop nothing and continuation bet and get raised, you’re putting your opponent on a hand: a better one than yours. This is a basic example but shows that in some way you are always considering what your opponent has.
To get really good at this game you need to be constantly putting your opponent on their hand range. What I’m about to say is one of the most important concepts in poker: put your opponent on a hand range and choose the best play based on this information. That’s it. That is a HUGE part of winning poker, especially as you increase in limits.
Start right away
You always need to put your opponent on a range starting with preflop, then adjusting it as your gain more information about his hand.
Some things to observe are what position your opponent is raising, limping, or calling from. If we are facing a tight player, with preflop stats of 16/14, and he raises UTG, he has a good hand. If we are facing a looser player with preflop stats of 22/18, and he raises the button, he has a very wide range (even looser than the preflop chart I have provided).
Thus we take this information and act accordingly. For instance, in the above example when the tight player raised UTG you wouldn’t even play a hand as strong as AJs. You certainty wouldn’t 3-bet him and put a lot of money in with a hand like AQo. Why? Well, he’s tight, even tighter than us. We know the kind of hands we raise UTG and he’s so tight that he’s even folding hands like ATs, KQo, 77 and 66. A hand like AJs performs very badly against the majority of hands that he is raising, so we stay away.
In the example of the loose button raiser, we know he’s raising so many weak hands, we can start 3-betting weak hands ourself, such as 76s, to steal the pot away and to keep him from stealing our blinds so frequently.
Again, this is preflop play, so it’s going to be easier to decide what to do against his hand range. But the concept remains the same throughout every hand, against every opponent and in every situation from a flop check-raise to a river value bet: put your opponent on a hand range and choose the best play based on this information.
Knowing how to make the best play based on hand ranges
This is another one of those sections where I can only tell you so much. You’re going to have to get some experience and play hands in all sorts of situations against all sorts of players to get a hold on this.
There are going to be spots where your hand is good but not great, like flopping an overpair and facing a flop raise from a tough, solid opponent. His hand range will be hard to put together: he can be making a move, he can be raising a good draw, or he can have us drawing nearly dead against his set or bigger overpair. It may seem like there’s not a great option and that’s somewhat true. Strong arguments could be made for calling, raising or folding in this spot.
However, spots like this won’t have a huge impact on how money you make. How’s that? Since every option is so close, it is almost neutral in the long run if you always put your stack in here or always fold. Of the money we will make at poker, 90% will be from putting our opponents on hands and making the correct decision when it’s clear what the correct decision is.
Stacking off with top pair good kicker against a tight player will usually be a very bad decision and will cost you a TON of money in the long run. Not value betting top pair good kicker on the river against a huge fish who doesn’t fold anything is a huge mistake and will cost you a ton of money in the long run.
Let’s go back to what I keep repeating: put your opponent on a hand range and choose the best play. If you keep thinking during every hand, you will start to notice the best play. When a tight player raises us on a flop of Jc9d6h, and we have KdJs, we’re crushed. We put him on a hand range of at worst, AcJd, and most likely an overpair or a set. When a maniac raises us on a flop of Jc9d6h, and we have KdJs, we don’t fold the hand. We put him on a hand range… well, he’s a maniac, he can have almost anything. In these spots, a maniac’s range is so wide that you just don’t fold a good hand.
I’m about to get complicated: Using hand ranges with equity
What I’m about to talk about is a very advanced concept. I’m including it because just having a small understanding of it will help you get a leg up on the competition and help you understand why you are doing what you are doing.
When poker players refer to equity, they are talking about their chances of winning versus the assumed hand range of their opponent. It is sort of like figuring out pot odds: we are figuring out what our chance to win the pot is, except often times we are figuring out how often we are losing to him, how often we are winning against him and if there is enough money in the pot to justify putting our money in the pot.
Let’s say I’m playing $1/$2. The CO, a TAG regular whose stats are 18/15 with a high postflop aggression factor, opens the pot to $6. I’m on the button with QdQh, and I reraise him to $20. The TAG calls.
Immediately I’m processing my opponent’s hand range. For him to call my reraise, I think he has a big broadway like AKs and AKo. My opponent is a little on the tighter side, so I think he folds AQs and worse. He’s calling any pocket pair from 22 to 99 to try to flop a set on me, and he’s calling TT through AA to try to trap me.
The flop comes down 9c 5c4h. My opponent checks and I bet $30 into the $43 pot. My opponent quickly shoves in the rest of his stack for $150 over the top of my bet.
I’m processing his hand again. We can eliminate every AK except for AcKc, which he’d shove as a semibluff. He’s folding 88, 77, 66, 33 and 22. He’s shoving AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, 55 and 44.
My exact hand range for my opponent is: AcKc, AA, KK, QQ (which is very rare given that I have the other two,) JJ, TT, 99, 55 and 44.
I’m slightly behind AcKc with a 45% chance to win. I’m crushed by AA and KK, with only an 8% chance to win. I’m also crushed by his sets with only a 9% chance to win versus 99, 55 and 44. However, I’m crushing JJ and TT with a 90% chance to win.
Since we have his hand range, we need add all those percents together to get a total of our % to win against his entire hand range and then look at the pot odds we are getting and seeing if we are winning enough of the time to call.
How the hell would you ever do that math at the table? Don’t worry, you won’t. What you do need to do is download a program like Poker Stove that lets you plug in hand ranges and start getting an idea of the percentages you need to win. You’ll have to do this when you’re not playing as it’s too complicated to deal with in the 15 seconds you have to act online.
For the above example I plugged everything in. Our QdQh has a 38.2% chance of winning versus villain’s hand range. We’re losing most of the time, but we can’t fold yet.
After I bet and villain shoves, I have to call $150 to win $253. I got the latter number by adding what was in the pot before the amount raised ($43 + $30 + $30 = $103), then adding that amount to what I have to call ($150). Then to get our percentage to win, we add 150 to 253 and we get 403, which we now divide by the amount we have to call, 150. Thus, we need a 37.2% chance to win to make a profitable call.
Wow, it’s pretty close! We just have enough equity of winning against villain’s hand range given the pot odds to make a call.
Again, this is pretty complicated stuff and it’s not feasible to apply all this math while at the table. But if you spend the time you’re not playing with understanding the math behind hand ranges, equity, and your decisions, this kind of stuff will become second nature and you’ll start making the best play.
A note on the frequency that a hand occurs in an opponent’s hand range
This is another complicated topic, but is worth mentioning. Let’s say we have QQ preflop, and are facing an all-in from a tight player. We know he only makes this move with AA, KK, or AK. We are getting odds where we need to win 35% of the time. We’re losing 80% of the time to 2 out of 3 hands and winning 55% of the time versus one hand. We’re only winning 31% of the time, so it’s a fold, right?
Wrong! AK occurs more frequently than AA or KK due to the fact there are more combos of AK. There are only 6 combos of AA or KK: for example, AcAh, AcAs, AcAd, AhAd, AhAs, AsAd.
Whereas for AK, there are 16 combos: AcKc, AsKs, AdKd, AhKh, AcKs, AcKd, AcKh, AsKd, AsKh, AsKc, AdKh, AdKs, AdKc, AhKc, AhKd, AhKs.
Thus, for every 12 times he has AA or KK, he’ll have AKs and AKo 16 times. This tilts the odds quite a bit as we will now be winning 39% of the time. We have the odds to call.
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